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Researchers Discover Protein Key To The Development of Blood Stem Cells

Update Date: Nov 25, 2014 09:40 AM EST

Researchers have identified a protein that is key to the self-replication of hematopoietic stem cells during human development, according to a new study. 

The discovery is being seen as the groundwork for researchers to generate hematopoietic stem cells in the lab that better mirror those that develop in their natural environment. 

Researchers have long been stymied in their efforts to make cell-based therapies for blood and immune diseases more broadly available, because of an inability to generate and expand human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in lab cultures. They have sought to harness the promise of pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), which can transform into almost any cell in the human body, to overcome this roadblock, the press release said. 

HSCs are the blood-forming cells that serve as the critical link between PSCs and fully differentiated cells of the blood system. The ability of HSCs to self-renew (replicate themselves) and differentiate to all blood cell types, is determined in part by the environment that the stem cell came from, called the niche.

"We found that whatever HSC niche we investigated, we could use GPI-80 as the best determinant to find the stem cell as it was being generated or colonized different hematopoietic tissues,"said lead research Dr. Hanna Mikkola, a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, in the press release. 

"Moreover, loss of GPI-80 caused the stem cells to differentiate into mature blood cells rather than HSCs. This essentially tells us that GPI-80 must be present to make HSCs. We now have a very unique marker for investigating how human hematopoietic cells develop, migrate and function."

The findings of the study were published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

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