Stem cells in the adult bone marrow produce all the blood cells the body will require for a lifetime. Occasionally, changes in the genes that control stem cells result in the appearance of leukemic stem cells that overproduce and do not develop properly. Using a technique he developed to study normal and leukemic stem cells by transplanting them into immune-deficient mice, Dr. John Dick will advance the study of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and address the challenge of determining how cell regulation works and why proliferative diseases such as leukemia develop.
He will purify stem cells and study how genes control normal stem cells in order to develop new stem cell-based therapies, including transplantation and gene therapy. In addition, he will study which types of normal blood cells can become leukemic stem cells and which genes may be involved.
Dr. Dick's program has five major long-term objectives:
The first is to determine the composition of the human stem cell compartment and the inter-relationship of the various classes of stem cells contained within it. Second, Dr. Dick will identify the cellular and molecular factors that regulate the normal stem cell developmental program. The third component is the characterization of leukemic stem cells and the identification of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control their development. Fourth, he will use an experimental model to examine all stages of leukemic initiation, transformation and progression from the earliest disruption by oncogenes of normal HSC development to a fully transformed leukemic cell. Finally, Dr. Dick will use his knowledge of normal and leukemic stem cell biology to develop novel therapeutics. Increased understanding of HSC function will form the basis for identifying and characterizing stem cells from other human organs and tissues, including embryonic stem cells.
This information will ultimately lead to a new generation of cell-based therapeutics for many human diseases.