Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Scientists develop barcoding tool for stem cells


New technology that tracks the origin of blood cells challenges scientific dogma

A 7-year-project to develop a barcoding and tracking system for tissue stem cells has revealed previously unrecognized features of normal blood production: New data from Harvard Stem Cell Institute scientists at Boston Children's Hospital suggests, surprisingly, that the billions of blood cells that we produce each day are made not by blood stem cells, but rather their less pluripotent descendants, called progenitor cells.

Barcoded Blood Stem Cells

New genetic barcoding technology allows scientists to identify differences in origin between individual blood cells.

Credit: Camargo Lab

The researchers hypothesize that blood comes from stable populations of different long-lived progenitor cells that are responsible for giving rise to specific blood cell types, while blood stem cells likely act as essential reserves.

The work, supported by a National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award and published in Nature, suggests that progenitor cells could potentially be just as valuable as blood stem cells for blood regeneration therapies.

This new research challenges what textbooks have long read: That blood stem cells maintain the day-to-day renewal of blood, a conclusion drawn from their importance in re-establishing blood cell populations after bone marrow transplants—a fact that still remains true. But because of a lack of tools to study how blood forms in a normal context, nobody had been able to track the origin of blood cells without doing a transplant.

Boston Children's Hospital scientist Fernando Camargo, PhD, and his postdoctoral fellow Jianlong Sun, PhD, addressed this problem with a tool that generates a unique barcode in the DNA of all blood stem cells and their progenitor cells in a mouse.

When a tagged cell divides, all of its descendant cells possess the same barcode. This biological inventory system makes it possible to determine the number of stem cells/progenitors being used to make blood and how long they live, as well as answer fundamental questions about where individual blood cells come from.

"There's never been such a robust experimental method that could allow people to look at lineage relationships between mature cell types in the body without doing transplantation," Sun said. "One of the major directions we can now go is to revisit the entire blood cell hierarchy and see how the current knowledge holds true when we use this internal labeling system."

"People have tried using viruses to tag blood cells in the past, but the cells needed to be taken out of the body, infected, and re-transplanted, which raised a number of issues," said Camargo, who is a member of Children's Stem Cell Program and an associate professor in Harvard University's Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. "I wanted to figure out a way to label blood cells inside of the body, and the best idea I had was to use mobile genetic elements called transposons."

A transposon is a piece of genetic code that can jump to a random point in DNA when exposed to an enzyme called transposase. Camargo's approach works using transgenic mice that possess a single fish-derived transposon in all of their blood cells. When one of these mice is exposed to transposase, each of its blood cells' transposons changes location. The location in the DNA where a transposon moves acts as an individual cell's barcode, so that if the mouse's blood is taken a few months later, any cells with the same transposon location can be linked back to its parent cell.

The transposon barcode system took Camargo and Sun seven years to develop, and was one of Camargo's first projects when he opened his own lab at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research directly out of grad school. Sun joined the project after three years of setbacks, and accomplished an experimental tour de force to reach the conclusions in the Nature paper, which includes data on how many stem cells or progenitor cells contribute to the formation of immune cells in mouse blood.

With the original question of how blood arises in a non-transplant context answered, the researchers are now planning to explore many more applications for their barcode tool.

"We are also tremendously excited to use this tool to barcode and track descendants of different stem cells or progenitor cells for a range of conditions, from aging, to the normal immune response," Sun said. "We first used this technology for blood analysis, however, this system can also help address basic questions about cell populations in solid tissue. You can imagine being able to look at tumor progression or identify the precise origins of cancer cells that have broken off from a tumor and are now circulating in the blood."

"I think that not only for the blood field, this can change the way people look at stem cell and progenitor relationships," Camargo added. "The feedback that we have received from other experts in the field has been fantastic. This can truly be a groundbreaking technology."


This research was supported by an NIH Director's New Innovator Award (DP2OD006472) and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Cited: Sun, J, et. al., Clonal dynamics of native haematopoiesis. Nature. October 16, 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nature13824

Joseph Caputo | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

nachricht Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein
22.03.2018 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Modular safety concept increases flexibility in plant conversion

22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>