Making blood on demand

‘Buddy’ cells that trigger blood stem cells to fully-develop have been discovered by a team of Australian scientists. The finding, in zebrafish, may hold the key to creating blood on demand in the lab.

Everyday medical procedures can require litres of donated blood; and blood stem cells – which can turn into any one of the different types of blood cell – are often used in treatments for leukaemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers.

Currently, most human stem cells are taken from bone marrow and then grown in the lab.

Zebrafish were the first animal the team discovered these buddy cells in; they now plan to investigate the process in others (credit: Phong Nguyen)
‘Buddy’ cells found in zebrafish. Credit: Phong Nguyen

“But they don’t grow very well,” says Dr Phong Nguyen of the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI ), whose PhD was the instigation of the research.

“We suspect it’s the presence of these ‘buddy’ cells that helps them grow, so now we’re looking for the signals they send, in the hope of one day developing a cure for a range of blood disorders and diseases.”

The team – led by Phong’s supervisor Professor Peter Currie, and Dr Georgina Hollway of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, has been awarded a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to extend the work to other animals.

They were awarded the 2015 University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for the work, which was published in Nature.

For more information:
Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI)
Peter Currie
+61 3  9902  9602

For all other enquiries:
Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI)
Silvio Tiziani, +61 (0)3 9902 9603

[1] ARMI is part of the Australian arm of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, based at Monash University