Leukemia stem cells to map how disease begins

In a major breakthrough that could help devise better treatment for blood cancer and aid the development of drugs that would stop the process before it advances, Canadian scientists have for the first time converted normal human blood cells to leukemia stem cells in the lab.


The team then transplanted the converted cells into lab mice and watched it replicate the entire disease process, from the very moment it begins. Till now, most human leukemia research involved studying a patient’s diseased cells. But because cancer takes months to develop, “just studying the cells at the end of the process does not tell us the series of changes that caused the cells to become leukemic and when they happened. We have now duplicated the natural process of cell death, as it happens. This will help us understand how cancer begins,” Dr John Dick at Ontario Cancer Institute said.

According to Dick, this peek into leukemia’s development will allow scientists to ask questions that include: Is the childhood disease different from that in adults? In which cell type does leukemia arise? And which genes are involved and in which order do they have to operate?

Reacting to the study, former head of Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute Dr Y P Bhatia told TOI, “Once the basic cellular structure is known, better treatment solutions can be devised. This is a major breakthrough. Scientists can now see the first cells that will give birth to leukemia and then watch as the disease as it slowly progresses.”

The groundbreaking research involved infecting cells from umbilical cord blood with a virus engineered to carry one of the genes known to cause certain types of leukemia. Dr Dick’s team introduced a specific leukemia gene into normal stem cells and injected the genetically altered cells into mice that lacked immune systems. This resulted in the mices developing leukemia, displaying the same characteristics and patterns of human disease.

He said, “We are studying how leukemia arises in the first place. We found that with the leukemia gene we were using, the disease only arose from immature stem and progenitor cells. The leukemic stem cells that were created seemed to change as the human leukemia was grown for longer times in a series of transplanted mice.”

Source:The Times Of India

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