Investigating blood cells’ wiring

Haley Bridger, January 20th, 2011
  • This scanning electron microscope image from
    normal circulating human blood shows red blood
    cells, several white blood cells including lymphocytes,
    a monocyte, a neutrophil, and platelets.
    Image from the National Cancer Institute

Today, a team led by researchers from the Broad and Brigham and Women’s Hospital published a paper about the elaborate circuitry that directs blood cell specialization. Every day, 200 billion newly minted blood cells are produced from a small cache of stem cells in the bone marrow – the soft material in the center of most bones. Different kinds of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets each emerge from a unique program that controls their maturation. These cells perform different but critical jobs – some bring oxygen throughout the body, others fend off infections, while others form clots at sites of injury.

Scientists at the Broad wanted to catalog the cellular signaling that guide cells toward their different fates. Understanding this circuitry could help researchers who are investigating what happens when blood cell development goes awry, which can lead to diseases like lymphoma and leukemia. The researchers created a portal called D-Map (short for Differentiation Map) so that scientists all over the world can use their data. You can find their original paper in the journal Cell and read a press release about their findings here, or check out the portal here.