A promising new approach for treating leukemia discovered

February 13, 2014, University of Montreal

A group of researchers at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) of Université de Montréal discovered a promising new approach to treating leukemia by disarming a gene that is responsible for tumor progression. That gene, known as Brg1 is a key regulator of leukemia stem cells that are the root cause of the disease, resistance to treatment and relapse.

Julie Lessard, principal investigator and her colleagues at IRIC have spent the past four years studying that gene in collaboration with another research group at Stanford University in California. The results of this study are reported this week in the prestigious scientific journal Blood.

"When we removed the Brg1 gene, the leukemia were unable to divide, survive and make new tumors. In other words, the cancer was permanently shut down", Lessard says.

One difficulty with targeting is that many essential for their function are also essential for normal stem cells, and therapies targeting them can end up harming healthy stem cells as well. "Strikingly, we showed that the Brg1 gene is dispensable for the function of normal , making it a promising therapeutic target in leukemia treatment" explains Pierre Thibault, principal investigator at IRIC and co-author in this study.

The story showed striking results on laboratory animals and human leukemia cells but is still a long way from being transposed into the clinic. "The next step will be to develop a small-molecule inhibitor to successfully block Brg1 function in leukemia, thus demonstrating the clinical relevance of this discovery", states Guy Sauvageau, chief executive officer and principal investigator at IRIC as well as clinical hematologist at the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont and co-author in this study.

The group is now performing experiments to identify such drugs that can disarm the Brg1 gene, thereby stopping leukemia stem cells from generating .

Cancer stem cells appear to be more resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy than the 'bulk' of the tumor and therefore, are often responsible for cancer relapse. As such, inhibiting residual leukemia stem cells from dividing is the key to obtain irreversible impairment of tumor growth and long-term remission in patients. "Our recent studies identified the gene Brg1 as a regulator that governs the self-renewal, proliferative and survival capacity of leukemia stem cells. Therefore, targeting the Brg1 gene in may offer new therapeutic opportunities by preventing the disease from coming back", Lessard concludes.

Explore further: Rare form of leukemia found to originate in stem cells

More information: Buscarlet M, Krasteva V, Ho L, Simon C, Hébert J, Wilhelm B, Crabtree GR, Sauvageau G, Thibault P, Lessard JA Essential role of BRG, the ATPase subunit of BAF chromatin remodeling complexes, in leukemia maintenance. Blood. 2014 Jan 29. [Epub ahead of print]

Related Stories

Rare form of leukemia found to originate in stem cells

February 13, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—An international team of researchers working out of the University of Toronto has found that one type of rare leukemia appears to get its start in stem cells. In their paper published in the journal Nature, ...

Colon cancer researchers target stem cells, discover viable new therapeutic path

December 1, 2013
Scientists and surgeons at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have discovered a promising new approach to treating colorectal cancer by disarming the gene that drives self-renewal in stem cells that are the root cause of disease, ...

Researchers discover a tumor suppressor gene in a very aggressive lung cancer

January 9, 2014
The Genes and Cancer Group at the Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program of the IDIBELL has found that the MAX gene, which encodes a partner of the MYC oncogene, is genetically inactivated in small cell lung cancer. Reconstitution ...

Battling defiant leukemia cells

October 7, 2013
Two gene alterations pair up to promote the growth of leukemia cells and their escape from anti-cancer drugs, according to a study in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Cancer researchers discover pre-leukemic stem cell at root of AML, relapse

February 12, 2014
Feb. 12, 2014) – Cancer researchers led by stem cell scientist Dr. John Dick have discovered a pre-leukemic stem cell that may be the first step in initiating disease and also the culprit that evades therapy and triggers ...

Recommended for you

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

T-cells engineered to outsmart tumors induce clinical responses in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma

January 16, 2018
WASHINGTON-(Jan. 16, 2018)-Tumors have come up with ingenious strategies that enable them to evade detection and destruction by the immune system. So, a research team that includes Children's National Health System clinician-researchers ...

Researchers identify new treatment target for melanoma

January 16, 2018
Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new therapeutic target for the treatment of melanoma. For decades, research has associated female sex and a history of previous ...

More evidence of link between severe gum disease and cancer risk

January 16, 2018
Data collected during a long-term health study provides additional evidence for a link between increased risk of cancer in individuals with advanced gum disease, according to a new collaborative study led by epidemiologists ...

Researchers develop a remote-controlled cancer immunotherapy system

January 15, 2018
A team of researchers has developed an ultrasound-based system that can non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognize and kill cancer cells.

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.