Public Release: 

Boning up: McMaster researchers find home of best stem cells for bone marrow transplants

McMaster University

Hamilton, ON (August 1, 2013) -McMaster University researchers have revealed the location of human blood stem cells that may improve bone marrow transplants. The best stem cells are at the ends of the bone.

It is hoped this discovery will lead to lowering the amount of bone marrow needed for a donation while increasing regeneration and lessening rejection in the recipient patients, says principal investigator Mick Bhatia, professor and scientific director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute.

In a paper published online today by the journal Cell Stem Cell, his team reports that human stem cells (HSC) residing in the end (trabecular region) of the bones display the highest regenerative ability of the blood and immune system.

"Like the best professional hockey players, our findings indicate blood stem cells are not all equal," said Bhatia. "We now reveal the reason why -- it's not the players themselves, but the effect the arena has on them that makes them the highest scorers."

Bone marrow transplants have been done for more than 50 years and are routine in most hospitals, providing a life saving treatment for cancer and other diseases including leukemia, anemia, and immune disorders.

Bhatia, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in Human Stem Cell Biology, said that cells surrounding the best blood stem cells are critically important, as these "stem cell neighbors" at the end of the bone provide the unique instructions that give these human blood stem cells their superior regenerative abilities.


The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Ontario Cancer Research Institute.

Editors: A website with embargoed information including the paper, background, pictures and video clips prepared for downloading is available at

Three Canadian physicians involved in bone marrow transplants are available to comment on the paper during the embargo. They include:

Dr. Anargyros Xenocostas, of London Health Science Centre and a co-author of the paper. He is available throughout the week.

He is a physician, an assistant professor of medicine at Western University and a consultant in hematology for the Department of Medicine at the London Health Sciences Centre. He also holds an appointment as an honourary consultant in Hematology/Oncology at the London Regional Cancer Program.

Dr. David Allen is available on July 29 and 30.

He is a clinician-researcher with the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at The University of Ottawa and the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research in the Regenerative Medicine Program at The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Dr. Armand Keating is available from July 31 onward, and he has limited availability on July 29 and 30.

He is a physician and professor of medicine, director of the Division of Hematology; Epstein Chair in Cell Therapy and Transplantation and a professor in the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. He is also director of the Cell Therapy Program and the Orsino Cell Therapy Translational Research Laboratory at Princess Margaret Hospital and a senior scientist in Experimental Therapeutics at the Toronto General Research Institute.

To arrange interviews and for further information, please contact:

Susan Emigh
Media Relations
Faculty of Health Sciences
McMaster University
905-525-9140 ext. 22555

Thana Dharmarajah
Media Relations
Faculty of Health Sciences
McMaster University
905-525-9140 ext. 22196

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