We are studying how new blood cells are made in the bone marrow and figuring out what goes wrong when this process runs out of control, leading to blood cancer.
Every day we make billions of new blood cells. Some of them are red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. There are also many different types of white blood cells that form part of the immune system, recognising and fighting off infections to keep us healthy.
Blood cell production starts with special stem cells, known as haematopoietic stem cells, which can produce all these different types of blood cells. This process is very tightly controlled, to make sure that the right number of each cell type is made. But sometimes things can go wrong, creating faulty stem cells that only make one particular type of cell, leading to blood cancer (leukaemia).
We are also transplanting haematopoietic stem cells into immunodeficient mice to see how they grow and repopulate the entire bone marrow. We're using advanced microscopy techniques to spy on the stem cells inside the body, to see how they grow and divide under normal, healthy conditions or during the development of leukaemia. And we are also growing these cells in the lab to get a better understanding of the genes and molecules that control them, and how they interact with neighbouring cells.
By finding out more about what happens when good blood stem cells turn bad, we hope to discover lifesaving new ways to treat leukaemia.