UCSC Logo Patients may be subjected to bone marrow transplants for treating cancers like lymphoma and leukemia or other blood-related diseases. Experts from the University of California, Santa Cruz, have found a key molecule for establishing blood stem cells. The research findings are probably helpful in improving the safety and efficiency of bone marrow transplants.

During a bone marrow transplant, the ‘active ingredients’, hematopoietic stem cells residing in the bone marrow supposedly give rise to all the different kinds of mature blood cells. Hematopoietic stem cells apparently employ a molecule called Robo4 for holding unto the bone marrow. Robo4 appears as a rare molecule present only in hematopoietic stem cells and within the endothelial cells of blood vessels. Researchers assume that Robo4 is specific for hematopoietic stem cells alone.

In the traditional bone marrow transplants, anesthesia is required to remove the bone marrow and hematopoietic stem cells are supposedly harvested from the blood. Repeated injections of drugs may be essential for making the stem cells leave the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream. It was suggested that a medication blocking Robo4 instead will be a safer and more effective approach. Camilla Forsberg, an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz, and colleagues are currently working on figuring out the molecules that bind with Robo4.

The research is published in the January issue of Cell Stem Cell.