A genetic change in leukaemia cells that is essential to their proliferation, but also makes the cells vulnerable to an existing drug, has been identified in a paper online this week in Nature Genetics. The research highlights specific cells that could be used as drug targets in the treatment of certain types of leukaemia.
Shaoguang Li and colleagues used one particular mouse model of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) caused by a mutation called BCR-ABL that fuses together two normally separate genes just as it does in human leukaemia. They found that the mice with this mutation, but lacking a third gene, called Alox5, did not get the leukaemia.
Since drugs targeting Alox5 function have already been developed, the researchers tested one of these and found it prolonged the life of the mice with leukaemia, without impairing the production of normal blood cells. This research demonstrates that a strategy to target specifically the progenitor cells that initiate this leukemia, rather than the bulk of the cancer cells, is feasible.