Nov 2015

Dr. John Dick

Stem cell team redefines how blood is made

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Dr. John Dick has done it again.

The University Health Network researcher who first discovered cancer stem cells in 1994 and produced the “pure blood stem cell” in 2011, published a paper today in the prestigious journal Science that could reboot how scientists think about human blood and how it gets made.

The paper proves “that the whole classic ‘textbook’ view we thought we knew doesn’t actually even exist,” says Dr. Dick, Senior Scientist at Toronto Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “Instead … we have been able to finally resolve how different kinds of blood cells form quickly from the stem cell – the most potent blood cell in the system – and not further downstream as has been traditionally thought.” He talks about the research here.

According to a UHN news release, the research also topples the textbook view that the blood development system is stable once formed. “Our findings show that the blood system is two-tiered and changes between early human development and adulthood.”

Co-authors Dr. Faiyaz Notta and Dr. Sasan Zandi write that in redefining the architecture of blood development, the research team mapped the lineage potential of nearly 3,000 single cells from 33 different cell populations of stem and progenitor cells obtained from human blood samples taken at various life stages and ages.

The findings are significant to unlocking routes to personalized therapies for people with blood disorders and other diseases.

Today’s discovery builds on Dr. Dick’s breakthrough research, published in Science four years ago, when the team isolated a human blood stem cell in its purest form – as a single stem cell capable of regenerating the entire blood system. Dr. Dick was the first researcher to isolate the cancer stem cell — the cell that drives tumour growth, which triggered  a new approach to cancer research.

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