In the News

Feb. 4, 2016 — Scientists at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern have pioneered a new method for conducting in-depth research on malignant tumors in patients, in the process discovering new complexities underlying cancer biology and overturning a nearly century-old perception about cancer metabolism.

The findings, published in Cell, may pave the way for exploiting cancer metabolism to predict disease progression and treat cancer. Read the news release.

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Jan. 11, 2016 — Scientists at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) have teamed with researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to pioneer the use of epigenomic profiling and CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology in studying how transcription enhancers operate during blood-forming stem cell differentiation and the role enhancers may play in the development of blood cancers.

Transcription enhancers are noncoding sequences of DNA that regulate how, when and where protein-coding genes are expressed, which enables cells to grow and develop into the body’s various, specialized functions.

The study provides new information about the role of transcription enhancers in normal blood-forming stem cell differentiation, and demonstrates how gene editing technology might enable scientists to target the development of blood cancers by modifying certain noncoding regulatory elements that drive those cancers.

“We found that during the course of normal blood-forming stem cell differentiation, transcription enhancers undergo extensive turnover,” said Dr. Jian Xu, an Assistant Professor at CRI, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern, and a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research. “We also identified a particular regulatory mechanism that helps explain how genes turn on and off during the differentiation process. Those two discoveries lay the groundwork for using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology to potentially modify gene expression regulatory elements and target the development of certain blood cancers.”

The findings also provide an opportunity for further study to determine if modification of regulatory genomic elements can advance a personalized method of targeting cancers based on individual genetic mutations.

The study was published in Developmental Cell.


Nov. 16, 2015 — Scientists at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern have determined how the body responds during times of emergency when it needs more blood cells. In a study published in Nature, researchers report that when tissue damage occurs, in times of excessive bleeding, or during pregnancy, a secondary, emergency blood-formation system is activated in the spleen.

Watch the video below identifying blood-forming stem cells inside the spleen, and read the news release.


Oct. 14, 2015 — A team of scientists at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) has made a discovery that suggests cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells, raising concerns about the use of dietary antioxidants by patients with cancer. The studies were conducted in specialized mice that had been transplanted with melanoma cells from patients. Prior studies had shown that the metastasis of human melanoma cells in these mice is predictive of their metastasis in patients.

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Metastasis, the process by which cancer cells disseminate from their primary site to other parts of the body, leads to the death of most cancer patients. The CRI team found that when antioxidants were administered to the mice, the cancer spread more quickly than in mice that did not get antioxidants. The study was published in Nature.

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Oct. 12, 2015 — Scientists at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) have found that a microRNA responsible for preventing liver cancer formation can also compromise liver regeneration and, if present at even higher levels, can cause liver damage that results in cancer.

“Let-7 microRNAs have been shown in mice to be anti-growth, anti-cancer genes that are extraordinarily effective at preventing the formation of certain types of liver cancer,” says Dr. Hao Zhu, an Assistant Professor at CRI and CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research. “However, our study raises the possibility that let-7 is not a general anti-cancer agent. It’s important to be selective and pay attention to when it might be effective and when it might not be effective, or even harmful.”

The CRI team also noted there are about a dozen, very similar let-7 microRNAs scattered across the genome, suggesting that the microRNAs work in tandem to achieve proper levels of let-7 to balance the need for regeneration against the need to antagonize cancer formation. This idea was supported by the fact that getting rid of a small subset of let-7 microRNAs could even accelerate liver regeneration.

Read the study published in eLife.


Sept. 23, 2015 — A team of scientists at the Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) has become the first to use a tissue-clearing technique to localize a rare stem cell population, in the process cracking open a black box containing detailed information about where blood-forming stem cells are located and how they are maintained.

The findings, published in Nature, provide a significant advance toward understanding the microenvironment in which stem cells reside within the bone marrow.

Watch the video below, and read the news release.


Aug. 18, 2015 — Le Qi, a Ph.D. student researcher at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI), has been selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Student Research Fellow. Qi, from China, is one of only 45 international students from 18 countries chosen to receive a fellowship.

Qi is completing his Ph.D. studies in the Hamon Laboratory for Stem Cell and Cancer Biology under the direction of Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of CRI and an HHMI Investigator. Dr. Morrison is originally from Canada, and was selected as an HHMI International Predoctoral Fellow when he was completing his Ph.D. at Stanford University.

“It feels like an opportunity to give back a little by now mentoring one of these students in my lab,” said Dr. Morrison. “These are all students who have an opportunity to do something special. The fellowships fill a major need, while also supporting some of the strongest and most highly selected students in the country.”

Read the news release.


June 15, 2015 — Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, has been announced as the incoming president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). The ISSCR represents nearly 4,000 stem cell researchers in 55 countries, promoting global collaboration among the world’s most prominent stem cell scientists and physicians. Read more about Dr. Morrison’s upcoming presidential term.


March 27, 2015 — Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, is trying to cure cancer, and he’s pursuing that goal with some of the best early-career scientists in the world in a setting that feels like a tech startup company. Read more in a profile of Dr. Morrison and the institute in D CEO magazine.


Jan. 15, 2015 — The Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) recently recruited Dr. Jian Xu to become the institute’s fifth faculty member and principal investigator. Dr. Xu will lead CRI’s investigations of disease-associated genes and gene networks in blood cell development and blood disorders such as childhood leukemia. Read about Dr. Xu’s appointment at CRI.