The Biology of Blood Cells

Scientists decipher the steps of blood cell formation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) New research has examined the crucial steps involved that turn brand new blood cells into immune cells or red blood cells, and how disruptions to this process can lead to blood diseases like leukemia.

The body experiences a replenishment of blood cells every day, a total of around 200 billion to be exact. However, the mechanism that determines what kind of cell they will become is still a mystery. These billions of blood cells, created by a small group of stem cells, can become a variety of things: immune cells (T cells), red blood cells or nine other variants.

A recent study has attempted to create a catalog of the different elements that lead up to a blood cell's transformation. Researchers have uncovered a complex system of transcription factors, which turn genes on and off. These form "circuits" that determine what new blood cells will morph into.

Scientists found that certain genes are turned on and off at certain points in a blood cell's developmental process, leading to genetic variations that have their own "unique profile." The changing of genes that lead to different cell types is called "differentiation." Unraveling this intricate process could lead to better understanding how blood cancers like leukemia form.

Leukemia cells lack differentiation and their abnormalities make them dangerous. "They've ended up in a place that doesn't exist in normal development," associate physician Ben Ebert says. With the new understanding of blood cells' developmental building blocks, doctors can now examine what exactly makes leukemia cells so harmful and how to correct it.

Other groups are already looking to share their data and insights in order to further understand the pivotal steps in blood cell development.

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Review Date: 
January 24, 2011
Last Updated:
November 8, 2012