Washington, Jan 18 : A new study has found for the first time a pathway that makes cancerous leukaemia cells resistant to treatment, thus paving the way for new therapies to treat the disease.
Researchers at the University of East Anglia have found that death-resistant Acute Myeloid Leukaemia cells are given their resistance by a genetic anti-oxidant pathway called hemeoxygenase-1 or HO-1.
They found that this pathway leads to relapse of the disease and non-responsiveness to treatments. When this pathway is inhibited, the cells lose their resistance and become responsive to death-inducing agents.
The new finding is the basis for developing new drugs that could significantly improve survival rates for leukaemia sufferers.
"This is a major step forward in the treatment of leukaemia and other cancers. The next step will be a programme to develop a new set of targeted therapies to treat not only Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, but other leukaemias and other cancers," said Prof David MacEwan, lead author.
The antioxidant response element (ARE) genes, which include HO-1, protect cells from damage and their killing off by cytotoxic agents such as chemotherapy drugs.
During the study, the researchers found that drug-resistant leukaemia cells have overactive ARE genes that cause them to be completely resistant to cytotoxic drugs, and that blocking this pathway reverts the cells into responding normally to cytotoxic agents.
The new study is published online in the journal Blood.