In the haemopoietic system the mature blood cells have only a finite lifetime. For example, a circulating granulocyte in the peripheral blood has an approximate half-life of 7h (Cartwright, Athens & Wintrobe, 1964; Dancey, Dubelbeiss, Harker & Finch, 1976) whilst the lifetime of an erythrocyte is approximately 120 days (Wickramasinghe & Weatherall, 1982). This constant ‘death’ of mature functional haemopoietic cells means that new blood cells must replace those that are removed. The process of haemopoiesis provides the mature functional blood cells to replace those lost as a consequence of performing their biological functions (e.g. lymphocytes and macrophages in the immune response) or through apparent old age and breakdown (e.g. erythrocytes that are 110–120 days old). The major questions that we are required to answer about this process are ‘where do all these new cells come from?’, ‘what regulates their production?’ and ‘how is this mechanism of control lost in haemopoietic disorders such as leukaemia, hyperproliferative diseases and anaemias?’. Recent work in the field of haemopoiesis has given some clues to the answers to the questions, which provide an intriguing insight into not only haemopoiesis itself but the possible lesions associated with the various blood disorders.

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