Study provides new clues to leukemia resurgence after chemotherapy

June 2, 2016, American Society of Hematology

For the first time, researchers have discovered that some leukemia cells harvest energy resources from normal cells during chemotherapy, helping the cancer cells not only to survive, but actually thrive, after treatment.

The study, published online today in Blood, the Journal of the American Society of Hematology (ASH), focuses on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that is the most common type of acute leukemia in adults. Nearly 20,000 U.S. adults are diagnosed with AML each year, and another 10,400 die from it annually, according to the American Cancer Society. Although chemotherapy treatments are often initially successful against this type of cancer, relapse occurs in about two-thirds of treated patients, often resulting in death.

The researchers found that are capable of stealing organelles known as mitochondria from , non-cancerous found in bone marrow and other organs. These stolen mitochondria give an energy boost to the surviving that helps fuel the cancer's rebound, they explain.

"There are multiple mechanisms for resistance to chemotherapy, and it will be important to target them all in order to eliminate all ," said Jean-François Peyron, PhD, team leader at the Centre Méditerranéen de Médecine Moléculaire (C3M) in Nice, France. "Targeting this protective mitochondrial transfer could represent a new strategy to improve the efficacy of the current treatments for acute myeloid leukemia."

The team conducted their experiments using cell cultures and mice, examining cells under the microscope. They found that while almost all cancer cells died when exposed to chemotherapy drugs, some stayed alive. Those that survived issued a "mayday" signal that tricked nearby non-cancerous cells to yield their mitochondria to the leukemia cell, thus strengthening the cancer cell.

"Mitochondria produce the energy that is vital for cell functions," said Emmanuel Griessinger, PhD, principal investigator of the study. "Through the uptake of mitochondria, chemotherapy-injured cells recover new energy to survive. It's like getting new batteries, or refueling during a pit stop."

The leukemia cells were found to increase their mitochondria mass by an average of 14 percent. This increase in mitochondria led to a 1.5-fold increase in energy production and significantly better survival rates. That is, the leukemia cells that have a high level of mitochondria are also more resistant to the chemotherapy.

The researchers observed the phenomenon in several types of leukemia cells, most notably those known as leukemia-initiating cells, which are considered to be responsible for the cancer's resurgence after treatment. Authors say this finding may explain why it is hard to treat some cancers.

Researchers believe these findings offer new hope for developing better treatments for AML. If researchers can find a way to interrupt the "mayday" signal or otherwise interfere with the transfer of mitochondria, that knowledge could lead to that would reduce the risk of relapse.

The study has clear implications for AML, but it may also shed light on other cancer types. It is likely that similar mechanisms may be at play in other blood cancers that involve the , and it is also possible that the mechanism could be found in solid tumors as well, according to the researchers.

According to the study authors, the next important step will be to identify the mechanism underlying the transfer of to AML.

Explore further: Discovery offers hope for treating leukemia relapse post-transplant

Related Stories

Discovery offers hope for treating leukemia relapse post-transplant

September 10, 2015
Targeting exhausted immune cells may change the prognosis for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) relapse after a stem cell transplant, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers.

MicroRNA pathway could lead to new avenues for leukemia treatment

April 26, 2016
Cancer researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) have found a particular signaling route in microRNA (miR-22) that could lead to targets for acute myeloid leukemia, the most common type of fast-growing cancer of the ...

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, ...

New drug combination shows promise for resistant leukaemia

May 18, 2016
Patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) can look forward to the development of new therapies following the discovery by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers of a new way to kill cells that are dangerously multiplying.

Protein networks help identify new chemo drug candidates

November 26, 2015
An experimental chemotherapy kills leukemia cells that are abundant in proteins critical to cancer growth, according to new research from Weill Cornell Medicine.

Preclinical study shows potential to increase the effectiveness of leukemia treatments

October 13, 2015
Preclinical experiments led by a team of researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center have shown that blocking the production of a protein known as chromodomain helicase DNA-binding protein 4 (CHD4) may help increase the effectiveness ...

Recommended for you

Magnetized wire could be used to detect cancer in people, scientists report

July 16, 2018
A magnetic wire used to snag scarce and hard-to-capture tumor cells could prove to be a swift and effective tactic for early cancer detection, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Researchers suggest new treatment for rare inherited cancers

July 16, 2018
Studying two rare inherited cancer syndromes, Yale Cancer Center (YCC) scientists have found the cancers are driven by a breakdown in how cells repair their DNA. The discovery, published today in Nature Genetics, suggests ...

Researchers map 'family trees' of acute myeloid leukemia

July 16, 2018
For the first time, a team of international researchers has mapped the family trees of cancer cells in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) to understand how this blood cancer responds to a new drug, enasidenib. The work also explains ...

Looking at the urine and blood may be best in diagnosing myeloma

July 13, 2018
When it comes to diagnosing a condition in which the plasma cells that normally make antibodies to protect us instead become cancerous, it may be better to look at the urine as well as the serum of our blood for answers, ...

Massive genome havoc in breast cancer is revealed

July 12, 2018
In cancer cells, genetic errors wreak havoc. Misspelled genes, as well as structural variations—larger-scale rearrangements of DNA that can encompass large chunks of chromosomes—disturb carefully balanced mechanisms that ...

Study shows biomarker panel boosts lung cancer risk assessment for smokers

July 12, 2018
A four-protein biomarker blood test improves lung cancer risk assessment over existing guidelines that rely solely upon smoking history, capturing risk for people who have ever smoked, not only for heavy smokers, an international ...

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.