New blood cells are created from blood stem cells. These stem cells are found in the bone marrow, in the interior of bones. For some children with acute leukemia (ALL or AML), a form of blood cancer, donor stem cell transplantation is the most suitable treatment. These are children in whom chemotherapy does not work well enough. By introducing stem cells from a healthy donor into the recipient’s bone marrow, new healthy blood cells are made. Every year, about 80 children are treated in the Máxima stem cell transplant center. These are mainly children with cancer.
Properties per cell
Not all stem cells are the same. Researchers therefore study them at the level of separate, individual cells. This allows to better understand their function, the production of new blood cells. Thanks to special technology, the experts at the single cell genomics facility at the Máxima Center are gaining insight into the regulation of each stem cell by quantifying their RNA. Dr. Thanasis Margaritis, team leader of the single cell genomics facility: 'Single-cell sequencing technologies provide very detailed insights into cellular processes. For example, we are already investigating differences between tumor cells, cell division, and communication between cells. This has provided important insights into tumor cell function. I am looking forward to applying single cell technologies to investigate healthy blood stem cells and expand our knowledge about their behavior in pediatric stem cell transplantation.’
Cure with optimal quality of life
Dr. Mirjam Belderbos, pediatric oncologist and research group leader at the Máxima Center: 'Stem cell transplantation is an effective treatment for many children. However, not all children benefit from the transplantation. To further improve this, we want to better understand what happens with the stem cells in the body new to them after transplantation. I would like to understand which donor cells work well in which circumstances to produce new healthy blood cells. But also which do not. And how we can then translate this into clinical application.
Children have a whole life ahead of them. That's why Belderbos is also researching the long-term outcome of stem cell transplantation. To that end, a clinical trial is currently taking place to examine blood production in people who have been cured of childhood cancer. Belderbos: "I want to learn more about blood stem cells in relation to age. I would like to investigate whether the transplanted stem cells maintain their biological age, or adapt to the age of the recipient. The age of the donor can sometimes be decades higher or lower than that of the child. Together with our colleagues at the single cell facility, we will therefore investigate whether stem cell age is fixed in the cell or whether it 'rejuvenates' in a young environment.'
Together with her research group, Belderbos will work to answer these functioning and aging questions. To do this, she recently received funding from the Landsteiner Foundation for Blood Transfusion Research in the form of a five-year fellowship. The single cell facility at the Máxima is funded by KiKa.