Chemotherapy often fails in leukemia when resistant cells survive
treatment and bring about a relapse of the disease (recurrence). New
therapies are therefore needed to eliminate these cells.
A small population of inactive leukemia cells that is responsible for relapse of the disease has been identified by Dr. Irmela Jeremias from Helmholtz Zentrum München and her colleagues. Now the way is paved for research into new therapies that prevent disease relapse by eliminating the remaining, so-called dormant leukemia cells.
The research results have now been published in the Cancer Cell journal.
Isolated cells respond to drugs
"We have found a method to dissociate dormant leukemia cells from their surroundings, where they are safe from attacks by therapeutics," explains Sarah Ebinger, doctoral candidate in the AGV and the article's first author. With the help of modern genetic engineering and dyes that mark cell growth, the scientists isolated cells and identified a rare cell type that resembled cells triggering relapse. These cells were inactive and resistant to therapy.
"We then found out that these cells, once they have been dissolved out of their surroundings, are indeed susceptible to therapy and react well to therapeutics," adds Erbey Özdemir, doctoral candidate in the AGV. "This has brought us a small step closer to the global goal of preventing disease relapse in patients suffering leukemia," says Jeremias. "It might serve as basis for new therapies that destroy resistant leukemia cells before they induce relapse."