Stem Cell Physiology
The many cells that make up the blood and immune system are continuously produced throughout life from hemopoietic stem cells residing in the bone marrow. The ability of these cells to perform this function is why bone-marrow transplants can be used to treat leukemia and other blood or immune disorders.
Researchers in the Stem Cell Physiology Research Unit, located at The Biomedical Research Centre at UBC, are studying the biology of bone marrow stem cells and the immune system. They are focusing on understanding the molecular mechanisms that control how bone-marrow stem cells self-renew and how they differentiate into and function as specific types of blood cells. Their long-term goal is to understand how defence, repair, and regeneration are regulated and how this knowledge can be exploited to benefit health and offer new treatments for disease.
The Biomedical Research Centre’s researchers recently made important discoveries about the ways bone marrow stem cells differentiate into various types of cells that can fuse with cells in other tissues – such as brain or muscle – to contribute genes. This and other work is contributing to the investigation of how bone-marrow stem cells and their “progeny” protect the body from infection, repair, and the regeneration of damaged tissues. With MSFHR funding, the research unit will be able to accelerate work in two research sub-themes:
- Understanding the diversity and inter-relationships of bone-marrow stem cells, including how these cells move through the blood to home in on particular tissues, and the signals that control their ability to self-renew and differentiate into various cells. This research will also entail the identification of sub-classes of stem cells that exist within bone-marrow stem cells. The goal is to develop safe, effective methods for using these stem cells to regenerate tissues damaged by disease or trauma.
- Researchers know that stem cells can replenish mature tissue cells when they expire, or repair tissues that are diseased or damaged. They also know that adult stem cells divide to produce progeny cells, which can differentiate into a variety of other tissue cells (called effector or end cells). But the way progeny differentiate, and the extent to which they can be reprogrammed — possibly into more stem cells — is unknown. Investigating how progeny cells are reprogrammed to become the cells needed to repair local damage, and how they migrate to these areas is a second major focus of research in this unit.
Award term completed September 2009.