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Fundamental Change in Leukemia Treatment

Published: 2017-07-27 |

Source: University of Kent

Researchers have identified a new cell mechanism that could lead to a fundamental change in the diagnosis and treatment of leukemia. A team in the University of Kent's pharmacy school conducted a study that discovered that leukemia cells release protein, known as galectin-9, that prevents a patient's own immune system from killing cancerous blood cells.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) - a type of blood cancer that affects 250,000 people every year worldwide, and progresses rapidly because its cells are capable of avoiding the patient's immune surveillance. It does this by inactivating the body's immune cells, cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer (NK) cells. Existing treatment strategies consist of aggressive chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation, which often do not result in effective remission of the disease. This is because of a lack of understanding of the modecular mechanisms that allow malignant cells to escape attack by the body's immune cells. 

Now the researchers at the Medway School of Pharmacy, led by Dr. Vadim Sumbayev, Dr. Bernard Gibbs and Professor Yuri Ushkaryou, have found that leukemia cells, but not healthy blood cells, express a receptor called latrophilin 1 (LPHN1). Stimulation of this receptor causes these cancer cells to release galectin-9, which then prevents the patient's immune system from fighting the cancer cells. The discovery of this cell mechanism paves the way for new "biomarkers" for AML diagnosis, as well as potential targets for AML immune therapy, say the researchers. "Targeting this pathway will crucially enhance patients own immune defenses, helping them eliminate leukemia cells," said Dr. Sumbayev. He added that the discovery has the potential to also be beneficial in the treatment of other cancers.

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