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New molecule boosts stem cell survival

REHOVOT, Israel -- Weizmann Institute researchers have developed a molecule that allows blood stem cells -the body's most primitive, immature cells that originate in the bone marrow - to multiply without differentiation in the test tube.

This achievement, described in the August issue of the journal Blood, may improve bone marrow transplantation, in which stem cells are infused into a patient to replace defective or malignant marrow. The study may also advance gene therapy research.

The new molecule was developed by Prof. Michel Revel and Dr. Judith Chebath of the Molecular Genetics Department, and its effects on blood stem cells were studied by Dr Tsvee Lapidot and graduate students Orit Kollet and Ronit Aviram of the Immunology Department.

Most stem cells originating in the bone marrow mature on a daily basis to supply our blood with the differentiated blood and immune cells that it needs. A small number of stem cells, however, survive and renew themselves without differentiation thanks to a natural mechanism by which the cells receive signals from molecules called cytokines. Among these cytokines is interleukin-6, a chemical messenger discovered in the 1980s in Revel's laboratory. In order to respond properly to interleukin-6, the stem cells have to form on their surface a multimolecular cluster which binds this cytokine. The cluster consists of a receptor molecule known as gp130 on the surface of the stem cell, and another molecule called the interleukin-6 receptor, which the cells pick up from surrounding fluids.

In contrast, when isolated in the test tube, the stem cells do not efficiently form the receptor cluster which binds interleukin-6 and fail to survive. They start to mature into various types of blood cells and lose their original properties within three to five days. The short survival time of stem cells in culture, has caused great difficulties in studying stem cells and using them for therapeutic purposes.

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Contact: Jeffrey J. Sussman, Communications & Public Relations
Jeffrey@acwis.org
212-779-2500
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science
28-Jul-1999


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