Researchers Identify Gene That Regulates Blood-Forming Fetal Stem Cells

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Blood-Forming Fetal Stem Cells

In the rancorous public debate over federal research funding, stem cells are generally assigned to one of two categories: embryonic or adult.

But that's a false dichotomy and an oversimplification. A new University of Michigan study adds to mounting evidence that stem cells in the developing fetus are distinct from both embryonic and adult stem cells.

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In the last several years, stem cell researchers have realized that fetal stem cells comprise a separate class. They recognized, for example, that fetal blood-forming stem cells in umbilical cord blood behave differently than adult blood-forming stem cells after transplantation into patients.

Now a U-M team led by Sean Morrison has identified the first known gene, Sox17, required for the maintenance of blood-forming stem cells in fetal mice, but not in adult mice. The discovery provides a critical insight into the mechanisms that distinguish fetal blood-forming stem cells from their adult counterparts.

The findings could also lead to a deeper understanding of diseases such as childhood leukemias, said Morrison, director of the U-M Center for Stem Cell Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Childhood leukemias are cancers that afflict blood-forming cells and hijack normal stem cell self-renewal mechanisms.

"One of the next questions in our cross hairs is whether Sox17 gets inappropriately activated in certain childhood leukemias

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