May 19, 2011

New Hope For Drug-Resistant Leukemia?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) --A team of scientists has just made a major discovery in the fight against hard-to-treat leukemia in children. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancer. Until now, doctors have had a difficult time understanding how the cancer cells survive the most powerful modern cancer drugs. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco now say the basis for this drug resistance is BCL6, a protein that leukemia cells use to stay alive. Scientists say targeting the protein may be the key to fighting drug resistant leukemia.

"We believe this discovery is of immediate relevance to patient care," Markus Mschen, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF and the senior author on the study was quoted as saying.

According to the National Cancer Institute, acute lymphoblastic leukemia accounts for about 23 percent of all cases of cancer in children under 15. The disease progresses rapidly, and the cancerous cells begin to infiltrate other parts of the body. Drug treatment can be physically and emotionally draining for the children and their parents. Despite treatment, a large number of children cannot be cured and die from the disease. In those cases, some of the cancer cells resist the therapy and survive in the body.

For the research Markus Mschen, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF and his colleagues were able to show that mice with drug resistant leukemia can be cured when given conventional cancer drugs in combination with a compound that disables the protein. The compound was originally developed by Ari Melnick, a professor of pharmacology at the Weill Cornell College of Medicine in New York and a co-author of the study. Melnick and colleagues created a drug-like peptide that blocks BCL6. They showed that giving the peptide to mice along with anti-leukemia drugs increased the strength of conventional drugs and helped the mice survive the disease. The authors say this new research could help scientists make cancer drugs more powerful and therefore cure more children with leukemia.

SOURCE: Nature, May 18, 2011