01 January 0001

Scientists have announced new lab findings which bring the generation of ‘artificial’ blood stem cells grown in a laboratory one step closer.

A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, USA, used zebrafish and human embryonic stem cells to examine the signalling pathways involved in generating blood stem cells.

They looked closely at the action of the Wnt family of molecules, which dock onto so-called Frizzled receptors on cell surfaces. They found that when Wnt9a connects to blood stem cells, three different molecules are involved – previous it was believed that only two molecules played a role.

The third molecule is epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR. The study reveals that EGFR is critical for triggering the cascade of cellular events necessary to turn a stem cell into a blood cell, the researchers report.

Their findings were published in the journal Nature Cell Biology. The scientists hope that knowing the crucial role for EGFR in blood stem cell development will help advance the development of ‘artificial’ blood stem cells – growing stem cells in the lab to replace bone marrow transplants.

Dr Stephanie Grainger, lead author on the study, said: “Previous attempts to develop blood stem cells in a laboratory dish have failed, and that may be in part because they didn't take the interaction between EGFR and Wnt into account.”

Dr Karl Willert, who co-supervised the study with Dr David Traver, added: “This is a great example of how working in one area of biology can have a huge impact on a seemingly unrelated process. In this case, we were studying Wnt's role in blood development and we landed smack in the middle of the EGFR-cancer field.”

Source: Grainger, S., Nguyen, N., Richter, J., Setayesh, J., Lonquich, B., Oon, C.H., Wozniak, J.M., Barahona, R., Kamei, C.N., Houston, J., Carrillo-Terrazas, M., Drummond, I.A., Gonzalez, D., Willert, K., Traver, D. (2019) “EGFR is required for Wnt9a–Fzd9b signalling specificity in haematopoietic stem cells”, Nature Cell Biology, available from doi: 10.1038/s41556-019-0330-5


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