Leukaemia seduces blood cells

30 January 2009

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Category: Research & medical benefits

Researchers using mice believe they have found a way to help stem  cells regain their normal function in leukaemia patients. In those suffering from leukaemia, the stem cells responsible for producing blood cells often become faulty. Blood cells are produced in bone marrow by stem cells. In normal bone marrow there are known to be special places where the stem cells congregate, divide, and make new blood cells. Researchers discovered that a molecule called stem cell factor was responsible for attracting these cells to this niche. Previous studies had identified that cancerous leukaemia cells also create niches in the bone marrow.

The niches made by the leukaemia cells over-produce the stem cell  factor so a very powerful chemical signal is emitted, enticing normal  stem cells into the cancerous niche. Once there, they become stuck,  leading to a reduction of the stem cells in circulation and to a disruption of their normal function.

The team therefore developed a way of blocking the release of these chemical signals in mice, using neutralising antibodies. They saw that the stem cells no longer became stuck and began to produce healthy blood cells again.

If this approach works in humans, it could help preserve healthy blood cells in people with leukemia. It could also make bone marrow stem cell transplants an option for more patients, allowing doctors to collect and bank patients' own stem cells for use after high-dose chemotherapy.