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Treatment to block the return of leukaemia

3rd June 2011

Scientists are conducting research to try to stop an aggressive form of acute leukaemia returning after a patient has been treated for it.

Recurrence of MLL caused by rogue leukaemic stem cells is a major problem but scientists from King’s College London have raised hopes of a solution after working on mice.

They have been able to eliminate the stem cells by suppressing two key proteins.

It is hoped the work will lead to new treatments and enable complete remission for patients with a form of acute leukaemia.

The study has been funded by Cancer Research UK and Leukaemia Lymphoma Research.

With MLL, cancer stem cells appear to be more resistant than other leukaemia cells to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and even after apparently successful treatment, they can return in a more aggressive form.

Researcher Professor Eric So said: “These findings take us a step forward in our understanding of how this devastating disease can return in patients after they have received the standard treatment.”

A protein called Bmi1 was already known to play a key role in the survival and proliferation of various cancer stem cells but targeting it alone did not eradicate the rogue cells.

However, when Bmi1 was targeted in harness with a second protein, Hoxa9, it abolished the ability of MLL mutation to induce leukaemia.

Dr David Grant, scientific director of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “This research is important in uncovering how leukaemia stem cells are controlled at the genetic level which in turn will guide new treatments to tackle this difficult problem.”

 

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