What is this research looking at?

Ageing related impairment of the blood system is the biggest single factor underlying the onset of blood cancers or a decrease in the function of the immune system occurring in the elderly.

I aim to characterise different groups of blood stem cells (haematopoietic stem cells - HSCs) that emerge with age as separate groups (subpopulations). I will study individual cells by using a new technology able to characterise gene activity (expression) in a single cell rather than from a collection of cells, as would be the case in a blood sample or a tissue biopsy.

Single cell approaches are very important in cancer research since we know that only a minor subpopulation of cells usually causes and maintains the cancer. I recently found subpopulations of blood stem cells in the bone marrow of old mice, with and without a tumour suppressor called p53. Since some of these HSCs might harbour the potential to transform into fully cancerous cells or to cause imbalance of blood cell composition, leading to a well-documented immune impairment in the elderly, I would like to examine them in more detail.

What could this mean for people with leukaemia?

My project will identify markers to detect faulty blood cells before they cause a blood cancer. I hope to be using these factors to detect and/or eliminate faulty blood cells before blood cancer occurs in the future and to improve blood cell function in the elderly.

Official title of project: Early detection of pre-leukaemia clones in the aged haematopoietic compartment using single cell approaches