Adult Stem Cells 101

What research is being done on adult stem cells at Children's Hospital Boston?

Children’s Hospital Boston has achieved a number of milestones in adult stem cell research. Its researchers were the first to:

  • Isolate lung stem cells, both in normal lungs and in lung cancer.
  • Identify a type of stem cell that forms at least two main cell types in the heart.
  • Demonstrate a way to boost numbers of stem cells in the laboratory, using a drug called PGE2 to increase production of blood stem cells.
  • Take a drug from stem cell research into clinical trials, with the aim of helping patients with leukemia and lymphoma.

A large effort, involving many labs at Children’s, is being devoted to understanding the cues that coax stem cells to divide and multiply, transform into specialized cell types, migrate to other parts of the body, and become a functioning part of tissues. Understanding these cues will help in designing more effective cell-based treatments. Within the Stem Cell Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, an innovative new study is following the live workings of adult stem cells in the body to understand how they behave day-to-day in maintaining tissues.

Other ongoing research in adult stem cells includes:



  • From fishtank to bedside

    A new drug that boosts numbers of blood stem cells, originally discovered in zebrafish in the Children’s Hospital Boston lab of Leonard Zon, MD, goes to clinical trial in patients with leukemia and lymphoma. Read more in this feature article.

  • Stem cells grow with the flow

    Children’s Hospital Boston researchers, with collaborators, have discovered that a beating heart and blood flow are needed for the blood system to develop. If scientists could figure out how to mimic this in the lab, the findings could provide new ways of making more blood stem cells for patients. Read more.

  • The secret lives of stem cells

    Under an NIH New Innovator Award, Fernando Camargo, PhD is using genetic tags as “barcodes” to track the live, day-to-day workings of adult stem cells in mice, following the differentiation of individual stem cells and their offspring over time. Although this work involves blood stem cells, it’s applicable to a variety of tissues and may give clues to regenerative treatments for multiple diseases.