Within the space of two weeks, two Canadian scientists have unveiled game-changing research into stem cells — providing further proof of Canada’s prominent position in the field.
On November 5th, the University of Toronto’s Dr. John Dick published a paper in Science that has researchers around the world rethinking how human blood gets made. Dr. Dick’s team showed that the traditional understanding of blood production is wrong and that stem cells drive production of different kinds of blood cells much earlier than previously thought. This has huge implications for future treatments for blood-based cancers. We blogged about it here.
Yesterday came news that a University of Ottawa team led by Dr. Michael Rudnicki published a paper in Nature Medicine that could completely alter perceptions on how Duchenne muscular dystrophy happens — linking it to intrinsic defects in the function of muscle stem cells.
Affecting about one in about 3,600 boys, Duchenne muscular dystrophy occurs when genetic mutations deplete production of dystrophin protein, causing muscles to deteriorate.
According to an Ottawa Hospital Research Institute release, dystrophin was thought to be a simple structural protein found only in muscle fibres. The Ottawa team discovered that muscle stem cells also express the dystrophin protein. Without it they can produce only one-tenth the number of muscle precursor cells needed to generate functional muscle fibre.
Dr. Nicolas A. Dumont and Yu Xin (Will) Wang are co-lead authors on the paper. that also showed that dystrophin is a key piece of the molecular machinery that enables muscle stem cells to function.
“Muscle stem cells that lack dystrophin cannot tell which way is up and which way is down,” said Dr. Rudnicki. “This is crucial because muscle stem cells need to sense their environment to decide whether to produce more stem cells or to form new muscle fibres. Without this information, muscle stem cells cannot divide properly and cannot properly repair damaged muscle.”
Dr. Rudnicki was featured in many news reports about the discovery, including this feature by CBC.