New research has shed light on how the blood is produced in the body, and this work, done in mice, moves science a step closer to manipulation of blood stem cell creation. This could reduce the need for bone marrow transplants, such as those needed by patients with cancer.1

“There is a pressing need to improve treatments for diseases like leukemia and this type of research brings us a step closer to that milestone. The more we understand about how embryos develop these blood stem cells, the closer we come to being able to make them in the lab,” said Professor Alexander Medvinsky, of the University of Edinburgh Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine, United Kingdom.

The researchers explained that personalized blood therapies could also result from the ability to use pluripotent stem cells to artificially grow stem cells.

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The bone marrow contains blood stem cells (hematopoietic stem cells) and produces all the blood cells in the body. Hematopoietic stem cells are used to help restore the blood supply in patients who have undergone leukemia treatments.

This study used a mouse model to examine exactly how hematopoietic stem cells develop in an embryo. Three key molecules were shown to interact together to generate the hematopoietic stem cells found in adult bone marrow. The 3 key molecules whose pathways interact are Sonic hedgehog (Shh), stem cell factor (SCF), and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP).

In the future, the scientists hope to recreate hematopoietic stem cell development in the laboratory, with the eventual goal of using them in the clinical setting. Further, this fundamental understanding of the early development of hematopoietic stem cells may also have implications for other diseases that affect blood formation and supply.


1. Souilhol C, Gonneau C, Lendinez JG, et al. Inductive interactions mediated by interplay of asymmetric signalling underlie development of adult haematopoietic stem cells [published online March 8 2016]. Nat Commun. doi:10.1038/ncomms10784.