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Therapy-Resistant Leukemia Cells the Culprit Behind Cancer Relapse

Dec 20, 2016 04:37 AM EST

German researchers, Dr. Irmela Jeremias from Helmholtz Zentrum München and her colleagues, have successfully discovered a small number of inactive leukemia cells that experts believe is responsible for the relapse of the cancer of the blood.

The results of study entitled "Characterization of Rare, Dormant, and Therapy-Resistant Cells in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia" is published in the Cancer Cell journal. Hopefully, this eye-opening study will pave the way for further studies on the targeted treatment of the chemotherapy-resistant leukemia cells or dormant cells.

Chemotherapy proves ineffective in the treatment of cancer patients, with resistant cancer cells causing a relapse. Dr. Jeremias, head of the "Apoptosis" research group in the Gene Vectors Research Unit (AGV) at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, and her team has now isolated and characterized therapy-resistant cells for the first time, as stated in an article by Eureka Alert.

"Previously the biological principles responsible for a relapse in leukemia were not fully understood," Dr. Jeremias said. "Our new approach is to isolate dormant cells, which gives us the first possibility of developing therapies that switch off these cells."

"We have found a method to dissociate dormant leukaemia cells from their surroundings, where they are safe from attacks by therapeutics," explained 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, Science Daily wrote.

"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," shared 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 leukaemia," said Dr. Jeremias. "It might serve as basis for new therapies that destroy resistant leukaemia cells before they induce relapse."

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