Australian researchers have made a world first discovery about leukaemia cell growth, that could slow the spread of the cancer and uncover more possibilities to treat the therapy-resistant disease.
Associate Professor Matt Dun who led the team behind the research, says acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a cancer of the bone marrow and the blood, progresses rapidly and has a typically poor prognosis without treatment.
“It’s a terrible progressive disease,” he said.
Adults diagnosed with AML face a dismal 24 per cent survival rate and children about 60 per cent.
“Patient survival is directly related to how well and how successful they respond to therapy,” Dr Dun said.
In a paper published on Wednesday, Dr Dun’s team announced their discovery of the mechanisms by which the cancer cells produce ‘free radicals’ – highly reactive molecules that damage healthy cells and aggressively fuel the growth of cancer cells as well as limiting the effectiveness of treatments.
Free radicals are almost impossible to treat and are believed to be a key player in almost all types of cancer.
“Reports of excessive [free radical production] in cancer have increased in frequency in recent years, however before now the specific mechanisms involved were poorly understood,” the paper said.
Researchers at the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) developed a strategy to silence the production of free radicals in leukaemia cells and strengthen their response to therapies.
“We have identified the production of free radicals [and] drugs that can target that process and suppress radical production,” Dr Dunn said.
The discovery could slow the growth of the cancer and make it more amenable to treatment.
Peter Diamond head of research at the Leukaemia Foundation said AML was an aggressive blood cancer with one of the poorest survival rates.
“The more we know about AML, the better our chances of curing and conquering this complex set of diseases,” Dr Diamond said.
In current working models, recently identified novel ROS-targeting drugs were found to impede leukaemia cell growth.
Moreover, the findings could have applications to other forms of cancer and disease caused by the excessive production of free radicals and in particular on cancers – such as brain cancer – that currently lack any effective therapies.
The researchers are now working with pharmaceutical companies and hope their findings will translate to improved survival for leukaemia patients.
“We also hope to identify the same machinery in the production in childhood brain cancers that currently completely lack any form of effective treatments,” Dr Dunn said.
(Australian Associated Press)