The creation of blood cells and the cells involved in our body’s immune reaction is more complicated than scientists have assumed until now. The stem cells for all blood and immune cells differentiate into five different types of precursor cells, instead of the two that scientists have identified. That is the result of research conducted by Dr. Leila Perié during her Marie Curie Fellowship under the supervision of Prof. Rob de Boer from Utrecht University and Prof. Ton Schumacher from the Netherlands Cancer Institute. The results are published in Cell on 17 December.
“This discovery not only changes the classic image presented in textbooks. A good insight into this process is important for immunotherapy, stem cell transplantation and patients who suffer from defects in the formation of blood cells”, according to Rob de Boer, Professor of Theoretical Biology at Utrecht University.
In immunotherapy, the patient is administered drugs that reinforce his or her own immune system, so that it can better destroy the tumour cells. “Insight into the creation of the various types of cells that play a role in the immune response is therefore a vital precondition to stimulate the immune system to attack the tumour cells”, according to Dr. Leila Perié. “However, we don’t know enough about the process from stem cell to the creation of specialised blood cells and immune cells.”
Perié therefore studied the first phase in the creation and renewal of blood cells and immune cells. To do this, she used a marking technique developed at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, which is a kind of ‘barcode’ to follow the creation of an individual cell. Specialised blood cells and immune cells all derive from a single type of cell called the hematopoietic stem cell.
To their astonishment, the research by Perié and her colleagues discovered that the final cells develop from four to five ‘precursor’ cells. Some of these can produce red blood cells and certain types of white blood cells, while others produce only white blood cells and others only develop into lymphocytes.