microRNA with macro implications

15 July 2016

On July 14, the paper “Ectopic miR-125a Expression Induces Long-Term Repopulating Stem Cell Capacity in Mouse and Human Hematopoietic Progenitors” (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2016.06.008) was published online in Cell Stem Cell. A joint effort between the group of ERIBA PI Gerald de Haan and the group of John E. Dick from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada. A summary of the paper is presented in the official press release from the University Medical Centre Groningen:

microRNA with macro implications

Researchers discover a new method to convert regular cells to stem cells

Scientists from the European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA) recently discovered a new way to convert regular blood cells into hematopoietic stem cells. These are the stem cells responsible for the production of all blood cells. A remarkable result that holds great promise for therapeutic stem cell transplantations. The research was a collaboration with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada. It was recently published in the renowned scientific journal “Cell Stem Cell”.

 For patients suffering from diseases that lead to an impairment of the blood cell production, such as leukemia, stem cell transplantation is essential to their recovery. By destroying the diseased bone marrow and replacing it with healthy hematopoietic stem cells (from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood) it is possible to restore blood cell production.  However, transplantations  require a live donor, that has to match the specifics of the patient. Many patients that need a stem cell transplant are not able to undergo the procedure.

 A potential solution for this problem is the production of stem cells from regular cells. Inducing stem cell properties in a committed cell is a complex process. The two research groups under supervision of Gerald de Haan (Groningen) and John E. Dick (Toronto) have found a new way to tackle this. Previous studies showed that a specific group of molecules in the cell, so-called microRNAs, play an important role in governing the unique self-renewal properties of hematopoietic stem cells. The paper in Cell Stem Cell demonstrates that by making a cell produce more of a specific microRNA (miR-125a), it is possible to induce stem cell properties in a regular cell. The researchers were able to do this for both human and murine cells. The effect of this increase in microRNA molecules is that regular cells will display all the properties of hematopoietic stem cells.

The findings hold great promise for therapeutic stem cell transplantations in the future. Although at this moment the applications are limited to research purposes, they pave the way  towards the development of new strategies to grow and expand hematopoietic stem cells outside the body. Eventually these new strategies can be used in transplantations. This could potentially reduce the need for donors in the future.

ERIBA is the research institute of the University Medical Centre Groningen and the University of Groningen where fundamental research on ageing and age related diseases is conducted.


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