Researchers find potential new leukemia treatment with old antibiotic drug

Clinician-scientists in the Princess Margaret Cancer Program have found a promising approach to treating leukemia, using an old drug in a new way.

The proof-of-concept research published today in Cancer Cell describes how the Canadian team discovered that the antibiotic tigecycline targets and destroys leukemia by cutting off the cell's energy production.

"If you think of all the cells in the body as a , we've discovered that tigecycline can cause a in leukemia stem cells, while still keeping the lights on in all the healthy cells," says Dr. Aaron Schimmer, clinician-scientist at the Campbell Family Institute for in the Princess Margaret Cancer Program, University Health Network. He is also an associate professor in the departments of medicine, medical biophysics, and Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto (U of T).

To identify known drugs with previously unrecognized ability to kill and leukemia stem cells, the scientific team amassed a library of hundreds of known drugs to try, including tigecycline – an intravenous antibiotic normally used to treat skin and abdominal infections. A high-speed, pipette-handling robot tested varying doses of each drug to see if any affected leukemia cells.

"Technology made this discovery possible. In three days, we found which potential leukemia drugs might be hiding in plain sight," says Dr. Schimmer. "Sifting through every combination by hand would have taken months."

"We tested more than 500 existing drugs on leukemia. Of the handful that made an impact, tigecycline was the most potent and revealed novel insights into the biology of leukemia at a cellular level," says lead author, Marko Škrtić, an MD/PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine at U of T, completing his PhD studies in Dr. Schimmer's lab.

The Canadian team demonstrated that leukemia cells have unique energy requirements and it is possible to selectively shut down this in leukemia cells by blocking protein synthesis in the mitochondria.

By looking for new treatments in approved drugs, cancer researchers may be able to rapidly test these new strategies in patients, says Dr. Schimmer, who is now beginning multi-centre clinical trials with tigecycline as a treatment for leukemia.

More information: DOI:10.1016/j.ccr.2011.10.015

Provided by University Health Network

5 /5 (2 votes)

Related Stories

Clinical importance of leukemia stem cells validated

Aug 28, 2011

Cancer scientists have long debated whether all cells within a tumour are equal or whether some cancer cells are more potent - a question that has been highly investigated in experimental models in the last decade. Research ...

Combination therapy targets stubborn leukemia stem cells

May 17, 2010

New research discovers a combination of drugs that may prove to be a more effective treatment for a lethal form of leukemia. The study, published by Cell Press in the May issue of the journal Cancer Cell, reports that the ne ...

Tracking down the origin of leukemia relapse

Apr 04, 2011

The cancer cells that reign during relapses of an aggressive human leukemia are different from those that dominated the original disease, according to a paper published online on April 4 in the Journal of Experimental Me ...

Recommended for you

ACG: Recent increase in incidence of young-onset CRC

1 hour ago

(HealthDay)—The incidence of young-onset colorectal cancer (CRC) is increasing, and the disease is more aggressive pathologically. These findings are being presented at the annual meeting of the American ...

User comments