Jul 2016

Dr. John Dick

Scientists find genetic switch to increase supply of stem cells from cord blood

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International stem cell scientists, led in Canada by Dr. John Dick and in the Netherlands by Dr. Gerald de Haan, have found the switch to harness the power of cord blood and potentially increase the supply of stem cells for cancer patients needing transplants.

The findings, published today in Cell Stem Cell, could provide a way to make more stem cells from cord blood, which is increasingly available through public cord blood banking.

“Stem cells are rare in cord blood and often there are not enough present in a typical collection to be useful for human transplantation,” says Dr. Dick, Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network (UHN), in a media release.

“Our discovery shows a method that could be harnessed over the long term into a clinical therapy and we could take advantage of cord blood being collected in various public banks that are now growing across the country.”

The Dick-de Haan teams found that when a stem cell divides it makes progenitor cells that retain key properties of being able to develop into any one of the 10 mature blood cell types, but they have lost the stem cell’s key ability to self-renew.

Working with mice and human models of blood development, the teams identified microRNA (mirR-125a), a genetic switch that is normally on in stem cells and controls self-renewal, gets switched off in the progenitor cells.

“Our work shows that if we artificially throw the switch on in those downstream cells, we can endow them with stemness and they basically become stem cells and can be maintained over the long term,” says Dr. Dick.

This is just the latest discovery by Dr. Dick. He isolated a human blood stem cell in its purest form and was the first to identify cancer stem cells in leukemia and colon cancer.

Dr. de Haan is Scientific Co-Director, European Institute for the Biology of Ageing, University Medical Centre Groningen, the Netherlands.

Dr. Dick talks about their research at here.


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