New Research: Vitamin A is Necessary for Blood Stem Cells

Scientists who are experts in stem cell research revealed findings that a lack of vitamin A has a negative impact on blood stem cell health. According to, research team at the German Cancer Research Center

Specialized cells, such as those in the blood, have a natural lifespan that is very short, a few days, and therefore, stores of the cells need to be continually replenished. This is done via adult stem cells that divide. In 2008, scientists found a group of specialized stem cells in the bone marrow that are only activated during times of infections (viral and bacterial), or other situations such as heavy loss of blood. Once these cells finish their activity, they go back into dormancy. Up until recently, the mechanisms that dictate the cells’ activity-and-dormancy cycles have not been clarified.

In a new study published in Cell, (10.1016/j.cell.2017.04.018), scientists have now identified the vitamin A metabolite retinoic acid as a crucial factor in this process. If the body lacks sufficient retinoic acid, those bone marrow stem cells that are active are unable to go back to dormancy, and then mature into specialized blood cells, according to the study. As this continues to occur, the body has less stores to use when needed. This was shown in a mouse study where the test subjects were fed a diet deficient in vitamin A. At the end of the study, the mice showed a loss of stem cells, as shown by dramatically fewer dormant stem cells that were fluoresced green.

Lead author Nina Cabezas-Wallscheid asserted, “we can prove for the first time that vitamin A has a direct impact on blood stem cells.” This new finding emphasizes previous studies showing that lack of vitamin A impairs immune function (the human body cannot produce its own vitamin A). “This shows how vitally important it is to have a sufficient intake of vitamin A from a balanced diet,” Cabezas-Wallscheid underscored.

These results may have influence on cancer research; as there is some scientific evidence that cancer cells also have a dormancy period, similar to stem cells. When in the dormant phase, cancer cell metabolism is slowed considerably, and this phase makes them resistant to chemotherapy.

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