As we age, many of us acquire mutations that cause some of our blood stem cells to multiply faster than others, forming their own distinct populations or “clones.” This is known as clonal hematopoiesis. In some cases, a single clone originating from a single genetically altered or mutated stem cell can expand to make up as many as 30 percent of a person’s blood cells. If such a “rogue” clone acquires more mutations, it can lead to myelodysplasia, a rare blood disease, and in turn to leukemia. The lab of Leonard Zon, MD, Director of the Stem Cell Research program at Boston Children’s Hospital, wondered if these rogue populations could be nipped in the bud, preventing a potentially fatal leukemia from ever starting.
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