Melbourne, Aug 11: New treatments for leukaemia, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis are in development after Australian researchers discovered a way to stop the production of killer blood cells.
Researchers at the St Vincent's Institute in Melbourne and Hanson Institute in Adelaide have unravelled the secrets behind the protein, which controls the way the blood cancer cells spread when it is damaged - and have found a way to stop its deadly process. The discovery is now leading scientists to design a drug to prevent the damaged proteins operating, effectively stopping the cancer as well as asthma and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
After spending 10 years uncovering the structure of the receptor protein, which sits on the surface of white blood cells, lead author Professor Michael Parker, of St Vincent's Institute, said scientists could now build a drug to attach itself to the protein and stop it sending messages into the cells telling them to multiply unchecked.
"If we can stop the signal for the proliferation of uncontrolled growth of the cells then we can stop the leukaemia in its tracks," News.com.au quoted him, as saying.
Researchers used X-ray and synchrotron imaging to build an image of the structure of the protein for the first time, hoping to find a way to block its process.
The GM-CSF hormone - which controls the production of blood cells in the body - works by attaching itself to the receptor proteins, which then send a message into white blood cells telling them to multiply.
When it gets damaged, the protein's messages lead to an over-production of cells or cells, which continues for too long, causing diseases such as leukaemia as well as some inflammatory conditions.
The breakthrough discovery came after researchers realised that the proteins linked together to form networks on the surface of white blood cells after being activated by the hormone, and that by stopping the networks forming they could also stop the growth.
Although the drug development phase has only just begun, Professor Parker said it would be easier to target a protein on the surface of the cell rather than trying to come up with a molecule to break its way into the centre of the cell.