Figure 1: Time-lapse microscopy analysis of haemangioblast differentiation. The formation of a blast colony from the haemangioblast can be retrospectively divided in two consecutive phases: a generation of a structure of tightly associated endothelial cells and the production of round non adherent cells expressing the haematopoietic marker CD41.


Figure 2: New model of blood cell origin: The haemangioblast and the haemogenic endothelium are part of the same developmental pathway to generate blood cell progenitors during embryonic life.

The Lancrin group studies the haematopoietic system and looks to develop strategies to improve methods for generating blood cells from stem cells.

Previous and current research

The continuous generation of blood cells throughout life relies on the existence of haematopoietic  stem cells (HSC) generated  during embryogenesis. They have the ability to self-renew and to generate all types of blood cells. Any pathology affecting these cells could lead to the development of serious diseases such as leukaemia and anaemia.

The origin of blood cells has been the subject of an intense scientific debate during the last decade. A first theory suggests that haematopoietic cells arise from a mesodermal progenitor with smooth muscle, endothelial, and haematopoietic potential called the haemangioblast. However, a conflicting theory associates the first haematopoietic cells with a phenotypically differentiated endothelial cell with haematopoietic potential (i.e. a haemogenic endothelium).

We used a model of early haematopoiesis based on embryonic stem cells (ESC) – that have the capacity to generate any cell types. Using this system coupled with time-lapse microscopy, clonogenic assays and flow cytometry analysis, we have demonstrated that the haemangioblast generates haematopoietic progenitors through the formation of a haemogenic endothelium stage, providing the first direct link between these two precursor populations. Our results merge the two a priori conflicting theories on the origin of haematopoietic development into a single linear developmental process, which makes the haemogenic endothelium the immediate
precursor of blood cells (figures 1 and 2).

Future projects and goals

Recently, the generation of the ESC-like induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) from fully differentiated cell types, such as skin fibroblast, provided a major breakthrough in the field of regenerative medicine. However, important work has to be done to differentiate efficiently iPSC or ESC toward specific cell types including blood cell progenitors such as HSC.

Consequently, the focus of our research is to unravel the mechanisms underlying the generation of haemogenic endothelium from its precursor, the haemangioblast, and its subsequent commitment to haematopoiesis. Combining genomics, time-lapse microscopy, and loss and gain of function experiments in vitro and in vivo, we plan to identify and study the genes responsible for the generation of the first blood progenitors during embryonic life. Our research will further understanding of the mechanisms of cell fate decisions leading to the production of the first haematopoietic cells and enable the development of new strategies to improve methods of blood cell generation from ESC or iPSC for regenerative medicine.