Study finds way to dramatically increase hematopoietic stem cells

Researchers from the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Techology (CRMT) and the Endocrine Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have found a novel way to significantly increase the production of hematopoietic stem cells in a mouse model. Expanding the population of these cells, which can develop into any kind of blood cell, could greatly increase the number of patients who could receive stem cell transplants for certain cancers. The study, published in the Oct. 23 issue of Nature, also identifies a potential treatment strategy that could duplicate this effect in patients, and the researchers are preparing clinical trials of that approach.

"There are many clinical challenges facing our patients that could be met if we could expand stem cell populations," says David Scadden, MD, director of the MGH CRMT, the paper's senior author. "The ability to enhance the number of stem cells an individual produces could have an immediate impact on patient care."

Clinical use of hematopoietic stem cells has always been difficult because they naturally occur in very small numbers and rarely reproduce. In recent years, many research groups have sought ways to expand stem cell populations, often by adding growth factors to bone marrow samples. The MGH researchers took a different approach by focusing on the natural environment in which stem cells develop, which in adults is the marrow cavity inside long bones.

Stem cells are usually found in the outer layer of marrow, adjacent to the inner layer of bone. This observation suggested that osteoblasts cells that generate new bone tissue to replace old bone and are found in that inner bone region might also have an impact on stem cells. To investigate that possibility, the researchers first studied a group of transgenic mice with an overly active version of a protein that turns on osteoblasts. They found that, in addition to having excessive numbers of osteoblasts in their bones, the mice als

Contact: Sue McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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