Health Watch -- Blood Diseases

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A microscopic worm may help researchers find a cure for blood-related diseases, including cancer.

It may be hard to believe that a worm you need a microscope to see is much help in studying human diseases, but researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say understanding this worm's genetic structure is key to understanding how cells develop into blood cells in humans. That knowledge could lead to the development of ways to treat or reverse genetic blood disorders.

Now researchers can't actually translate their findings in worms immediately to humans. Researchers have figured out how a particular gene affects a worm. They then found that a related gene also affects the way mice develop, although it's in a much more complex way. There are comparable genes in a human, so scientists believe that the genes could affect human development in a similar way.

The gene in question appears to determine how daughter cells will develop after a cell division. In the worm, it determines what kind of nerve cells they become. In mice, the counterpart gene appears to determine how blood cells develop. When the gene isn't working properly in mice, the stem cells in blood don't properly develop into red blood cells or platelets.

The genetic structure in mice and humans is close enough to tell researchers that similar genes in humans could have the same effect. The more researchers understand about genes and the way cells develop, the more they'll know about disorders related to cell development, like cancer.
Jan. 6, 2003