Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A new paper published this week in Cell Reports reveals that changes in the gene expression of blood stem cells occur across the human lifetime; an important step in the understanding and treatment of blood disorders.

The article, authored by a collaborative team from groups led by Associate Professors Andi Roy (Department of Paediatrics) and Beth Psaila in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, and Dr Supat Thongjuea from the MRC WIMM Centre for Computational Biology, offers a detailed look at the gene activity shaping blood cell production in tissues sampled from four stages across the human lifetime. 

Blood cell production, or haematopoiesis, starts before birth and continues throughout life. A specific group of cells called blood stem cells continuously replenish the many cell types circulating in the blood, and this process must be dynamic to meet the changing requirements throughout human development. However, disruptions to this process can lead to blood disorders such as blood cancer.

The researchers used a new computational platform (SingCellaR), to compare the gene activity of tens of thousands of individual cells across multiple samples.

“This was a hugely enjoyable project” notes Professor Beth Psaila, a senior author on the paper. “Working collaboratively with multiple research groups enabled us to access precious samples from healthy individuals at multiple timepoints over the human lifetime, generating a unique dataset of blood stem and progenitor cells.” Sampling five distinct tissues across four stages in the human lifetime, the team generated a comprehensive dataset looking at the gene activity of over 57,000 individual blood stem cells. They found that clear transitions occur in the nature of the blood stem cells at different stages of development. For example, before birth, blood stem cells in the liver show a bias towards giving rise to red blood cells and platelets rather than white blood cells, which is the reverse of what occurs when blood cell production occurs in the bone marrow.

The team also found evidence of rapid cell turnover in the stem cells from early in development, transitioning to lower activity with increased inflammatory signalling in adult life. The gene activity ‘fingerprints’ observed at distinct stages of development showed similarities to certain blood cancers that are comment at particular ages. Stem cell samples from juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia (JMML), a cancer that affects young children, showed similarities to prenatal stem cells, suggesting a fetal origin for the disease. In contrast, samples from myelofibrosis, a cancer typically affecting older adults, showed inflammatory signalling programs similar to those seen in normal adult bone marrow.

“We put a lot of effort into developing powerful visualisation for single-cell data and ensuring that the analysis framework made it easy to use and fast to compare results from multiple methods. We believe this will speed up the analysis process of ongoing single-cell projects, generating more robust results and enabling detailed data interrogation.” says Dr Supat Thongjuea.

Professor Andi Roy adds “The expert analysis platform developed by Drs Thongjuea and Wang sets out a roadmap for data analysis that we hope will be useful to researchers applying single cell techniques in other disciplines.” 


Read the full paper here at this link

Similar stories

New atlas revealed of bone marrow haematopoiesis during development

A new study published this week in Nature, provides the most detailed analysis so far of the prenatal development of blood and immune cells in the bone marrow.

Promising discovery for treatment of neuromuscular diseases

Research led by Carlo Rinaldi and Catheryn Lim discovered that a naturally-occurring isoform of an androgen receptor can be used in therapy for spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy, and shows potential for other diseases.

New book highlights life-saving role vaccines play in prevention of killer diseases

'Brain Fever', a new book by internationally-renowned medical scientist Professor Richard Moxon, describes the decades of research that contribute to the development of vaccines for life-threatening illnesses such as meningitis, and how immunisation has been our greatest public health intervention.

Latest data on immune response to COVID-19 reinforces need for vaccination, says Oxford-led study

A new study led by the University of Oxford has found that previous infection, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, does not necessarily protect you long-term from COVID-19, particularly against new Variants of Concern.

Innovation award for Paediatrics researcher to develop new treatments for childhood cancer

Associate Professor Andi Roy leads one of the five research teams across the UK that have been awarded the 2021 Cancer Research UK-Children with Cancer UK Innovation Award. The awards, which provide a total of £4.3 million in scientific funding, will allow leading researchers in the field to delve into the biology of children’s and young people’s cancers, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent and treat these complex cancers.

Children’s pain ‘swept under the carpet for too long’ – Lancet Commission

The launch of Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Commission - the first ever to address paediatric pain - aims to raise the profile of children’s pain from early years to early adulthood.