Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) have claimed a breakthrough discovery in the field of stem cell development research.
In a paper published this week in the prestigious US-based journal Developmental Cell, the scientists claim to have discovered a simpler version of the human bone marrow in the adult fruit fly, a finding with potential implications for advances in stem cell biology, immunity, treatment of blood-related disorders such as leukemia, wound healing and the study of ageing.
The authors of the paper are assistant professors Lolitika Mandal and Sudip Mandal, and post-graduate students Saikat Ghosh and Arashdeep Singh.
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The scientists found the stem cell activity in the fruit fly to be identical to the one found in the human bone marrow, one of the few known sources of stem cells. The activity could be easily observed in the fruit fly because of its simple genetic system.
The scientists said the findings could be applied to vertebrates, including humans, as the stem cell activity in the fly is actually a scaled down version of the human bone marrow. According to A K Bachhawat, Dean (R&D) at IISER, “It is the most important discovery on stem cells coming from India, and given the fact that vertebrate bone marrow is not easily accessible, it is expected to revolutionise future research work in this field, as a simpler and easily accessible model for studying stem cells — an adult fruit fly — has finally been found by Dr Lolitika Mandal’s group.”
Professor N Sathyamurthy, director of the institute, called it a “major breakthrough” in developmental biology. “The researchers have shown an aspect of the stem cell which can be a forerunner for the human bone marrow, and, therefore, this discovery has wide implications,” he said.
The discovery was hailed by others too. Dr Akshay Anand, editor-in-chief of Annals of Neurosciences, and a neuroscientist at PGI, said, “This model has immense potential to trigger screening of drugs that can induce neuro-genesis, and to make important discoveries in the field of stem cell research.”
Another expert, Professor Archana Bhatnagar from the Department of Bio-chemistry, Panjab University, said: “Developmental Cell is a reputed international journal and it is a significant discovery, as this model can be used to make further discoveries in various areas, including stem cell biology and immunity.”
Lolitika said they started the project two and a half years ago when when researchers believed that all blood cell formation in Drosophila, the fruit fly, occurred only during its immature stages of development.
“We challenged the theory and found that the adult fly has clusters of stem-cell cells and sites of hematopoietic (blood cell forming) activity. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that blood formation and stem cell activity in the fly was completely identical to the activity in the bone marrow of vertebrates. Even the extracellular matrix and other characteristics of the cells, including they way they ‘signalled’ each other, were identical in both the cases,” she added.
“Just like an architect prepares a model before the construction of a building, the fruit fly presents the perfect model. It is a simple organism with all its 5,000 genes identified… Extracting human bone marrow is difficult and presents ethical issues, while studying the process in mice has its own complications. In the fly, you can mark and monitor each cell by colour-coding it, without having to dissect it,” explained Sudip.