A team led by Dr Peter Papathanasiou from the John Curtin School of Medical Research at The Australian National University and Associate Professor Andrew Perkins from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland completed a three-year screening project to find the genes that control the development and turnover of stem cells.
“We’ve shown that blood stem cells with this genetic mutation behave the same way as those present in human bone marrow diseases, including diseases that can evolve into leukaemia,” said Dr Papathanasiou, who is also affiliated with the Australian Phenomics Facility at ANU.
“By understanding more about the genetic blueprint of these kinds of disorders, we can start to develop new ways of targeting diseases,” Dr Perkins said.
“Currently, there is no treatment for this group of blood diseases, but the discovery of this mutation provides new avenues for investigation.”
As a result of the screening project, the researchers have also identified five other abnormal blood stem cell profiles, adding to understanding of the genetic diversity of blood cells. The project has also led to a better understanding of how blood cells develop and how this process becomes corrupted.
“Given that the same genes that operate in stem cells also function in cancer cells – albeit with genetic mutation – this research also has potential implications for regenerative medicine, by understanding how to stimulate the growth of new blood cells,” Dr Papathanasiou said.
The project was the first in the world to mutate the mammalian genome in a specific search for novel genetic regulators of stem cells.
The following is taken from the research paper’s abstract:
Here we demonstrate that chemical mutagenesis of mice combined with advances in hematopoietic stem cell reagents and genome resources can efficiently recover recessive mutations and identify genes essential for generation and proliferation of definitive hematopoietic stem cells and/or their progeny.
We employed high-throughput FACS to analyze nine subsets of blood stem cells, progenitor cells, circulating red cells and platelets in >1,300 mouse embryos at embryonic day (E) 14.5. From 45 pedigrees we recovered six strains with defects in definitive hematopoiesis.
We demonstrate rapid identification of a novel mutation in the c-Myb transcription factor that results in thrombocythemia and myelofibrosis as proof-of-principal of the utility of our FACS-based screen.
The work was made possible by grants from the National Health & Medical Research Council, the Leukaemia Foundation, and by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy to establish the Australian Phenomics Network.