Comprehensive Atlas on Bone Marrow Cells Could Be Game Changer

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While plenty of studies have been done looking at how blood cells function within bone marrow, new research looks deeper at other cells, and resulted in the collaborators creating a Bone Marrow Atlas.

New research conducted by a collaboration between the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has brought to light rare bone marrow cells that appear to fight against leukemia and other challenging conditions.

While plenty of studies have been done looking at how blood cells function within bone marrow, this new research looks deeper at other cells, and resulted in the collaborators creating a Bone Marrow Atlas. This novel look offers a full view of all the cells existing within it, providing a better understanding of both healthy and diseased blood production.

The researchers explained that a tiny percentage of non-blood cells can play an important role in diseases such as leukemia, other blood cancers, or bone marrow failure syndromes, so an encyclopedia cataloguing like this could be a game changer.

“For the first time, we will have a comprehensive framework to view the full gene expression and spatial organization of bone marrow cells,” senior author Kai Tan, PhD, a professor of pediatrics in the Perelman School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Although our paper is foundational, we envision the atlas will be used to develop new diagnostic tests, identify new CAR-T or other therapeutic targets, and discover spatial biomarkers of disease.”

Thanks to the atlas and the study team’s efforts, doctors and researchers can possess a more complete picture of the functions of the rarer, but still key cells in the bone marrow, including stromal cells, bone cells and blood vessel (endothelial) cells.

To create their atlas, the team utilized single-cell RNA sequencing, capturing the full gene expression profiles of more than tens of thousands of individual cells, discovering the complete mix of cell types that make up an organ. They used AI to help in their efforts and hand labeled individual cells.

By doing so, the research team discerned that healthy bone marrow has very distinct spatial organization, and also that stromal cells are more closely associated with blood-producing cells than previously thought.

“When applied to leukemia patient samples, these techniques identify the expansion of mesenchymal cells, a type of rare non-blood cell, at the cancer cell site in the bone marrow,” Ling Qin, PhD, a professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Penn Medicine and the study’s co-author, said. “This reveals a potential new direction for future disease treatment.”

Tan added that the team believes it is just scratching the surface on what can be discovered.

“Future research can build on our work, expediting bone marrow studies with the hope that one day these digital pathways will lead to healthcare breakthroughs in acute leukemia and other bone marrow disorders,” he said.

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