University of British Columbia researchers have identified a 'molecular key' that has the potential to increase the success of blood stem cell transplants.
Blood stem cell transplants are currently used to treat diseases such as leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and aplastic anemia.
During the procedure, donor blood stem cells, which can produce red and white blood cells and platelets, are injected into the recipient to produce new blood.
The stem cells then need to travel to the thymus, an organ near the heart, and produce T-cells, a type of white blood cell that orchestrates the body's immune system.
A common problem with blood stem cell transplants is the failure of stem cells to repopulate the thymus and generate T-cells. Without T-cells the patient is unable to fight infection and post-transplant prognosis is poor.
Now, Prof. Hermann Ziltener and his research team at UBC's Biomedical Research Center have identified a molecule called S1P that can tell the thymus to 'open the gates' and accept more stem cells.
"This discovery gives us a handle on determining whether the thymus will be receptive to migrating stem cells. By treating patients with drugs that control S1P, scientists can now manipulate the thymic gates to either open or close," said Ziltener, a professor in the Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
The new study is published in the April issue of The Journal of Experimental Medicine.