JAN 21, 2020 6:42 PM PST

A gene for leukemia triggers the growth of stem blood cells

New research from the University of Colorado Cancer Center has identified a way to make hematopoietic stem cells from a gene that causes a type of leukemia in children. The work was led by Patricia Ernst, Ph.D., CU Cancer Center investigator and professor in the CU School of Medicine Departments of Pediatrics, and was published recently in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

In fact, the discovery about hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) came as quite a surprise for Ernst and her colleagues. She comments:

"My lab was working on a gene called MLL that, when accidentally fused together with another gene, causes childhood leukemia," says Ernst. "Half my lab was studying MLL's role in leukemia and the other half was exploring what MLL normally does," Ernst says. "When we knocked out this gene, we saw that hematopoietic stem cells couldn't retain their 'stemness' -- instead of being HSCs, they would differentiate to become like normal cells of the blood system. So, we wondered what would happen if we increased it," Ernst says.

This observation led the team of researchers to analyze the function of MLL down to the cellular level. They concluded two key findings regarding the role the gene plays in stem cell differentiation and maintenance. First, they determined that increasing the amount of MLL protein in pluripotent stem cells triggers the cells to generate more blood cells, which has significant implications for leukemia patients recovering from chemotherapy and irradiation.

"As pluripotent cells differentiate, they enter a kind of transitional state in which they still have the potential to become many different cell types. Single-cell sequencing let us watch the fate of these transitional cells, and we saw that activating MLL led to more of these transitional cells becoming blood cell types," Ernst says.

Second, the team discovered that the MLL gene and its cancer-causing cousin can be targeted individually, which could improve drug development against MLL-rearranged childhood leukemia. "It's about selective targeting," Ernst says. "We want to selectively turn off the cancer-causing MLL fusion gene without affecting the regular form of the MLL gene."

Photo: Pixabay

Ernst and her colleagues aim to continue their investigations in order to develop a drug-based method to augment MLL levels. The goal is to "make customizable stem cell products that could be adapted to any particular patient," Ernst says.

Sources: Stem Cell Reports, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
APR 25, 2020
Cancer
Breaking the Blood-Brain Barrier in the Fight Against Brain Cancer
APR 25, 2020
Breaking the Blood-Brain Barrier in the Fight Against Brain Cancer
One of the more unique aspects of the human body is the blood-brain barrier (BBB) that protects the central nervous syst ...
APR 29, 2020
Immunology
New Immune Cell Discovered in Mammary Ducts
APR 29, 2020
New Immune Cell Discovered in Mammary Ducts
Dubbed “ductal macrophages,” newly discovered immune cells found in breast tissue offer fresh promise for fu ...
MAY 06, 2020
Cancer
Olanzapine useful for cancer patients managing nausea unrelated to chemo
MAY 06, 2020
Olanzapine useful for cancer patients managing nausea unrelated to chemo
A study published last week in JAMA Oncology reports that a generic drug called Olanzapine could be useful for cancer pa ...
JUN 06, 2020
Cancer
Developing a Platform to Efficiently Test Antibody-Drug Conjugates
JUN 06, 2020
Developing a Platform to Efficiently Test Antibody-Drug Conjugates
Cancer has been one of the most persistent diseases modern medicine has faced. Due to its nature, treatments are often t ...
JUN 17, 2020
Cancer
New test for high-grade serous ovarian cancer
JUN 17, 2020
New test for high-grade serous ovarian cancer
Research published in Clinical Cancer Research describes a new test that is more effective at diagnosing ovarian cancer. ...
JUN 24, 2020
Cancer
Even low levels of air pollution are associated with morbidity
JUN 24, 2020
Even low levels of air pollution are associated with morbidity
A new study investigates the causal relationship between mortality and long-term exposure to a low level of fine particu ...
Loading Comments...