Researchers at University of Wisconsin recently discovered a new process for regenerating leukemia cells that could prove to be important in finding better treatment methods.
The research focused on chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells. There are currently several types of drugs patients can use to treat this form of cancer, Igor Slukvin, UW professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, said.
Slukvin is one of the scientists on the project, and is an expert on stem cells and human blood.
Studying treatment methods for patients with leukemia, Slukvin said, is important because current drugs being used can often become ineffective for patients.
“The drugs don’t cure the diseases; they only keep them under control,” Slukvin said. “This is because some of the cancer cells are not sensitive to the drugs.”
According to a UW statement, current drugs for leukemia treatment are tyrosine kinase inhibitors, meaning they help stop the leukemia cells from leaving the bone marrow. But they do not cure the cancer.
The drugs do not help to rid the patients of the cancerous cells, and patients can develop resistance to them, Slukvin said. This can lead people to relapse with their leukemia, he said.
“If they stop the drugs, then they relapse,” Slukvin said. “That is why it is very important to study cancer cells.”
The research team was able to create specific stem cells that can become blood cells. The properties of these cells can then be tested, according to UW statement. This allows scientists to then study how various drugs affect the cancerous cells.
Scientists may be able to study the progression of leukemia in blood cells, which will help them gain an overall better understanding of the disease.
“What we do is we take bone marrow from a patient with leukemia and [the cells from the marrow] are grown for a long time in a dish. When we take cells from patients with leukemia, we can make properties of leukemia cells in the dish,” Slukvin said.
This new process will prove important because the cells taken directly from patients do not live very long, Slukvin said. Scientists must then continually get new bone marrow from patients in order to test drugs.
This new discovery will allow the scientists to grow their own cancerous cells for testing.
The bone marrow stem cells can be taken and turned into leukemia stem cells, and these cells can grow indefinitely. This allows scientists to have ample time and the ability to expand their research, Slukvin explained.
“This technology can be used for the discovery of a target for new drugs,” Slukvin said. “There are many types of blood cancers and we want to see if we can make this research work for other types of blood cancers.”