Could sleeping stem cells hold key to treatment of aggressive blood cancer?

July 29, 2013

Scientists studying an aggressive form of leukaemia have discovered that rather than displacing healthy stem cells in the bone marrow as previously believed, the cancer is putting them to sleep to prevent them forming new blood cells.

The finding offers the potential that these stem cells could somehow be turned back on, offering a new form of treatment for the condition, called Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). The work was led by scientists at Queen Mary, University of London with the support of Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute.

Around 2,500 people are diagnosed with AML in the UK each year, both young and old. Although AML is curable in some the majority die from this disease.

Normally, the bone marrow produces haematopoietic stem cells which mature into "adult" blood cells. In people with AML the bone marrow is invaded by leukaemic which aren't able to develop into normal functioning blood cells.

The result is that the body does not have enough or platelet cells, which can cause symptoms of anaemia, such as , and increase the risk of excessive bleeding. Patients are also more vulnerable to infection as the , which fight and viruses, are not properly formed.

Dr David Taussig, from the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said: "The widely accepted explanation has held that AML causes by depleting the bone marrow of normal haematopoietic stem cells by killing or displacing them.

"However, we have found that samples of bone marrow in both mice models and patients with AML contain the same, or more, of these normal stem cells than usual. So the cancer isn't getting rid of them, instead it appears to be turning them off so they aren't going on to form healthy blood cells.

"If we can find out how the cancer cells are doing this, we can look at exploiting it to find ways to wake these stem cells up. This is very important as, while the cure rate for younger patients can be around 40 per cent, in older patients it is much lower. The treatments we have, such as chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, just aren't very successful in this older patient group."

The scientists studied the levels of haematopoietic stem cells (HSC) in the bone marrow of mice transplanted with human AML. They found the numbers of normal mouse HSCs stayed the same, however what did change was that the HSCs were no longer going through the stages of development which finally results in the formation of new blood cells.

The findings were confirmed by the analysis of bone marrow from 16 patients with AML.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "Although major progress has been made in treating AML over the years, there's still an urgent need for more effective treatments to improve long-term survival. This study takes us an important step forwards in our understanding of what's going on in the of people with AML, an area that we have not known enough about previously, and the challenge now is to turn this understanding into new treatments for patients."

Dr Taussig added: "Usually when the body is stressed, the become very active. For example, if you have a haemorrhage, they will jump into action to produce more new . The are somehow over-riding this and our next phase of work will concentrate on how they are doing this."

The findings are published today in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Explore further: Compound that could prevent acute blood cancer relapse identified

More information: Acute myeloid leukemia does not deplete normal hematopoietic stem cells but induces cytopenias by impeding their differentiation , www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1301891110

Related Stories

Compound that could prevent acute blood cancer relapse identified

April 17, 2013
Researchers from the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences in Japan report today that they have identified a compound that could be used as a new treatment to prevent relapse in acute myeloid leukemia patients.

New findings may help overcome hurdle to successful bone marrow transplantation

May 28, 2013
Blood diseases such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and myelodysplasia can develop from abnormal bone marrow cells and a dysfunctional bone marrow microenvironment that surrounds these cells. Until now, researchers have been ...

Researchers find NSAIDs help push stem cells into bloodstream prior to transplantation

March 14, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Indiana University's School of Medicine has found that giving meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), to people and baboons boosts the number of haematopoietic ...

Fat in organs and blood may increase risk of osteoporosis

July 16, 2013
Excess fat around the belly has recently been identified as a risk factor for bone loss. Now, a new study has determined that excess liver and muscle fat also may be detrimental to bone.

Targeting errant immune system enzyme kills myelodysplastic cells

July 8, 2013
Scientists have successfully targeted a malfunctioning immune system enzyme to kill diseased cells from patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)—a blood disorder and precursor to leukemia.

Reversing blood and freshening it up

March 25, 2013
The blood of young and old people differs. In an article published recently in the scientific journal Blood, a research group at Lund University in Sweden explain how they have succeeded in rejuvenating the blood of mice ...

Recommended for you

Female mouse embryos actively remove male reproductive systems

August 17, 2017
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. The ...

Two-step process leads to cell immortalization and cancer

August 17, 2017
A mutation that helps make cells immortal is critical to the development of a tumor, but new research at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that becoming immortal is a more complicated process than originally ...

New Pathology Atlas maps genes in cancer to accelerate progress in personalized medicine

August 17, 2017
A new Pathology Atlas is launched today with an analysis of all human genes in all major cancers showing the consequence of their corresponding protein levels for overall patient survival. The difference in expression patterns ...

New technique overcomes genetic cause of infertility

August 17, 2017
Scientists have created healthy offspring from genetically infertile male mice, offering a potential new approach to tackling a common genetic cause of human infertility.

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

August 17, 2017
Gastric carcinoma is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths, primarily because most patients present at an advanced stage of the disease. The main cause of this cancer is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, ...

Inhibiting a protein found to reduce progression of Alzheimer's and ALS in mice

August 17, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with Genetech Inc. and universities in Hamburg and San Francisco has found that inhibiting the creation of a protein leads to a reduction in the progression of Alzheimer's disease ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.