New blood cells are born in the marrow deep inside our bones. It’s a special environment packed with blood vessels, spongy walls and a host of supporting cells, known as stromal cells, which provide all the right signals for blood cell creation. But as well as providing the right environment for healthy blood cells, bone marrow can also harbour the rogue stem cells that fuel leukaemia [blood cancer]. Because of its hidden location it’s hard for scientists to see exactly what’s going on in the bone marrow. To get round this problem, researchers have developed artificial bone marrow implants from a sponge-like gel soaked with supporting stromal cells. When placed under a mouse’s skin, the implants (stained blue) quickly become threaded with blood vessels (green), attracting leukaemia cells (pink) that thrive there. The new implants will be a useful tool for scientists studying healthy and cancerous blood cells.
Written by Kat Arney
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