Researchers from the UCLA Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology Oncology and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have published two studies that define how key genetic factors affect blood-forming stem cells by either accelerating or hindering the cells’ regenerative properties. The findings could one day lead to improved treatments for people undergoing common therapies for cancer such as chemotherapy and radiation. Blood-forming stem cells, or hematopoietic stem cells, are found in the bone marrow. These cells have two unique properties: They can self-renew and, through a process called differentiation, they can form any type of blood cell. A healthy immune system depends on the regenerative abilities of hematopoietic stem cells. Common cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation can eliminate cancer by killing cancer cells. But these treatments also damage hematopoietic stem cells, which can impede the cells’ ability to regenerate blood, slowing the immune system and resulting in a longer, more complicated recovery for people with cancer. Previous research indicated that certain genes may alter hematopoietic stem cells’ regenerative capacity by either accelerating or hindering the cells’ ability to restore the immune system, but more research was needed to pinpoint the specific genetic activity and effects. One of the new studies focused on a gene called Grb10 that is expressed by hematopoietic stem cells. Grb10’s function was previously not known, so to better understand its role, the scientists deleted Grb10 from hematopoietic stem cells in lab dishes and in mice that had received radiation. They found that deleting Grb10 strongly promotes hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal and differentiation.
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