An ‘antenna’ molecule, which is capable of guiding blood stem cells to their natural ‘home’, the bone marrow, has been discovered. The discovery could improve the efficiency of umbilical cord stem cell transplants. This type of transplant is not efficient when there are not many umbilical cord stem cells present, since few of them are able to reach the bone marrow from the blood.
Reported by Nature magazine, the discovery was made by David Scadden of the in Stem Cell Institute . The stem cells, which normally renew the population of blood cells in the body (red and white blood cells and platelets), are found in the bone marrow, but continuously move throughout blood in circulation, and eventually end up back in the bone marrow.
This is the reason why blood stem cells transplants are never highly efficient. In fact, the injected stem cells are not always able to make it back to the bone marrow, where they need to be present in order to function. These researchers have discovered a guide molecule, a protein called ‘GSA’, which is like an antenna placed on the surface of the cells, which guides them back to the marrow. Researchers have demonstrated in mice that have received stem cell transplants, that with drugs that activate GSA, the injected stem cells easily find their way to the bone marrow and the transplant functions more efficiently.