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How do blood stem cells make decisions and how does this go wrong in leukaemia?

Dr David Kent is studying blood stem cells, a type of cell which has the potential of turning into many different types of blood cell. He wants to understand how this process goes wrong in leukaemia to try and find new ways to treat the disease.

The challenge

All cells in our body start out as stem cells. The different types of blood cells in our bloodstream develop from special blood stem cells, which are produced in our bone marrow - the soft spongy middle part of the bone. But blood stem cells can sometimes pick up genetic changes, which permanently disrupt the production of healthy blood cells, causing leukaemia to develop.

The project

Dr David Kent and his team at the University of Cambridge are working to find out how blood stem cells decide which blood cell they will develop into, and how this process goes wrong in leukaemia. To do this they will study the genetic ‘make-up’ of these stem cells to try and understand what type of cell a blood stem cell will become. They will compare this process in healthy cells and cancerous cells and look for any differences that could be targetable by drugs.

The future

This increased knowledge of the process that takes place when healthy stem cells develop into blood cells and how this differs in leukaemia will pave the way in finding new ways to treat the disease.