Stem Cell Biology / Hematopoiesis
In Dr. Rao’s laboratory, researchers are discovering how leukemia develops. Stem cells are defined by two unique properties: self-renewal, or the ability to undergo symmetric cell division to maintain a stable pool, and "potency", or the ability to differentiate down multiple lineages. In the case of embryonic stem (ES) cells, their unique ability to differentiate into all three germ layers that form the embryo is termed pluripotency. Adult stem cells, such as the hematopoietic stem cell (HSC), are more restricted in their differentiation potential, but can fully recreate a tissue in vivo. Recently, the stem cell model has been extended into cancer, with cancer stem cells identified in certain malignancies such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML). While many of the factors required for stem cells are well described, none have been shown to play a critical role in all types of stem cells. Factors critical for all three stem cell types would likely operate by controlling a specific "stemness program" used by all stem cells for self-renewal and/or multipotency. Identification of such a program could provide new avenues to identify stem cells in vivo, enhance the reprogramming/generation of stem cells for use in regenerative medicine, and provide novel targets for the development of anti-cancer therapeutics.