Researchers at Childrens Hospital Boston report finding a new way to increase stem cells in blood, suggesting a possible treatment to help patients who undergo chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant for leukemia and other cancers recover their immune function more quickly. In the June 21 issue of Nature, they demonstrate that a stable analog of prostaglandin can enhance the blood-forming system, both during embryonic development and after its been damaged.
The discovery, made possible through high-volume drug screening in zebrafish, marks the first time stem-cell production has been induced by a small-molecule drug, says the studys senior author, Leonard Zon, MD, of the Childrens Hospital Boston Stem Cell Program and Division of Hematology/Oncology. Other studies, including one from Zon's own lab*, have identified ways of increasing formation of blood stem cells, which give rise to each of the bodys various blood cell types. However, the methods are technically complex and havent lent themselves to broad medical use.
The hospital now hopes to conduct a clinical trial of the drug, a long-active derivative of prostaglandin E2 known as dmPGE2. This compound was originally tested more than 20 years ago for patients with gastritis, but was never marketed as a drug.
Currently, patients undergoing bone marrow transplant must wait for marrow from a matched donor to replenish their stem cells and reproduce the full array of blood cell types, including all the cells of the immune system. When theres no suitable donor for a marrow match, patients can receive umbilical cord blood, which also contains blood stem cells. But the number of stem cells in one cord of blood is often not adequate for older children and adults, leaving them with diminished immune function and high risk for infections.
Zon and colleagues Trista North, PhD, and Wolfram Goessling, MD, PhD, both also of Childrens Stem Cell Program, zeroed in on dmPGE2 by screeni
Contact: Anna Gonski
Children's Hospital Boston