Study Focuses On Origin of Blood Cells

Strong Doctor Looks For Clues To Childhood Leukemia

May 10, 2001

All blood cells that circulate in our bodies arise from blood stem cells. And while blood stem cells first arise in the embryo, their origin is not known. But in a study of mice, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers have discovered the generation of cells closest to the mouse stem cell. Their findings ultimately will help pediatricians understand how the human blood system is formed and why it breaks down to produce childhood leukemia.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April. Lead author is James Palis, M.D., associate professor of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Children's Hospital at Strong. He worked in collaboration with URMC scientists and researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Palis and his team built their research on previous work on the genesis of blood cells. They identified that the generation of blood cells closest to the mouse stem cell first occurs in the yolk sac - an organ that lies outside of the body and is the site where the embryo's first mature blood cells are produced. The finding is significant because once the initial development of the blood system is better understood, it might offer answers about how and why blood stem cells produce leukemia, sometimes even before a child is born.

"I'm driven to try understand the normal as an avenue to understand the abnormal," said Palis, who divides his professional time between research and caring for children with blood disorders and cancer. About 2,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with leukemia each year. Even more rare, though, is the neonatal form of the disease.

The National Institutes of Health has just provided $1 million for the next phase of the project, which begins this summer and involves identifying the source of the blood's stem cells.

For Media Inquiries:
Leslie Orr
(585) 275-5774
Email Leslie Orr