Recent Robarts scientific recruit plays integ...

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Recent Robarts scientific recruit plays integral part in new cell discoveryLONDON, ON (Aug. 14, 1998) -- Dr. Mick Bhatia, a researcher in the Gene Therapy and Molecular Virology Group at The John P. Robarts Research Institute, is one of only a handful of specialists in the world whose aim is toidentify the ellusive Mother blood cell (hematopoetic stem cell or HSC) that gives rise to the entire human blood system. He was lured to London eight months ago from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.Recently, his landmark work has been recognized by one of the worlds top biomedical journals. The prestigious Nature Medicinewhich features breakthroughs in biomedical research that haveglobal health care implicationswill be including a manuscript detailing the discovery of a new human cell in the September issue (released at 5:00 p.m. this evening). It is the first time in many years that a newly characterized blood stem cell has been demonstrated in humans and Dr. Bhatia is the leading author of this exciting work.Over the past eight months, Dr. Bhatia has set up his new lab in London and has continued this vital research, producing new evidence that may assist in the clinical use and further characterization of the newly discovered cell. Blood is very unique in that it can be easily transplanted and worked with, allowing research in this area to progress fairly quickly. Dr. Bhatia hopes that through his work, patients with Leukemia and other Cancer patients requiring bone marrow transplants will eventually be able to grow an entire new blood system after transplantation of highly purified HSC. In addition Dr. Bhatia believes this newly discovered cell may represent a human stem cell which will be able to maintain blood production for the entire lifetime of the patient. If this is the case, the new cell provides a unique target for stem cell gene therapy.This work was conceived and born at The Hospital for Sick Children in geneticist Dr. John Dicks bab, along with my colleague, Dr. Dominique Bonnet. The delivery of the work that has been featured in Septembers Nature Medicine has been a laboured one, due to the fact that our scientific reviewersmuch like uswere amazed at the existance of this new cell, explains Dr. Bhatia. * Since coming to Robarts, Dr. Bhatia continues to work to identify procedures that will make itpossible to use the new cell for gene therapy, and that is truly exiting, says Dr. Greg Dekaban, Director of the Gene Therapy and Molecular Virology Group. His arrival has not only strengthened the research capabilities of the Gene Therapy and Molecular Virology Group and Robarts, but has filled a gap in Londons overall research base.Dr. Mark Poznansky, President and Scientific Director of Robarts adds: With Dr. Bhatias work, we are looking to the future, when our knowledge of the genetic basis of disease will allow us to devise gene-based therapies that are much more specific than most drugs and hence, less toxic than many of todays therapies for diseases such as cancer.In addition to getting his work up and going at the Institute, Dr. Bhatiaalso an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology at The University of Western Ontariohas developed strong collaborations with Mr. Mike Keeney and Hematologists Drs.Anne Smith, Ian Chin-Yee, Kang Howsen-Jan and Mike Kovacs at London Health Sciences Centre. At St. Josephs Hospital, he is working closely with Mrs. Marlene Watson and specialists Drs. Fraser Fellowes and Bryan Richardson.Dr. Anne Smith explains: To identify the human hematopoetic stem cell is truly exciting. Purification of the stem cell may overcome the difficulties of mismatched bone marrow transplants, opening up the field to more patients in need. In addition, the possibilities for gene therapy targetting this stem cell are very significant, whereby a normal gene can be introduced to replace a defective gene, which can then be given back to the patient, potentially curing them. We are thrilled by Dr. Bhatias work and look forward to collaborating further with him as he attempts to bring the Bench to the Bedside.This finding signifies the dawn of a new era of biomedical research in the area of human bloodstem cell biology and transplantation. With the support structure provided to me herethe collaborations with the physicians, funding from the Medical Research Council of Canada (MRC) and other important sources, and continued infrastructure assistance from Robarts as well as The University of Western Ontario, I hope the benefits of this discovery can soon be applied to patients, concludes Dr. Bhatia.For more information, please contact:Irene Posliff, Communications Officer, The John P. Robarts Research Institute, (519) 663-3021