Stem cells have the unique ability to grow into many different types of cells. By understanding the processes they use to transform into healthy or diseased mature cells, we may be able to uncover how human diseases occur. Although we already know that stem cells can be influenced by their surroundings, there is still a need to better understand how treatments, such as chemotherapy, can manipulate a micro-environment to either kill cancer or encourage its development.
As Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Niche Biology, Dr. Anastasia Tikhonova is studying how conversations, or “cross-talk,” between bone marrow stem cells and their environments changes in normal versus diseased states. She and her research team are identifying micro-environmental cues that promote acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow. They are also examining the unique role the immune system plays in the micro-environment and how this can promote the development of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive form of blood cancer most commonly diagnosed in children.