Feb 13, 2014

By Jane Brown

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Canadian researchers have discovered a stem cell that may be at the root of acute myeloid leukemia and also may be the “bad actor” that evades chemotherapy and triggers a relapse in patients who’ve gone into remission.

Lead scientist John Dick of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre says, “a leukemia stem cell can lie dormant and they’re the ones that will sustain the growth of the leukemia.” He calls “the pre-leukemic guys basically the ancestors that are on their way to becoming leukemia and becoming leukemic stem cells.”

The findings show that about a quarter of AML patients have a mutation in a specific gene that causes the development of pre-leukemic stem cells, which function like normal blood stem cells but grow abnormally.

The research suggests these primordial stem cells could be targeted by a drug that could potentially stop the disease at an elemental stage.  Acute myeloid leukemia is a rapidly progressing cancer of the blood and bone marrow that affects myeloid cells, which normally develop into mature red and white blood cells and platelets.  Leukemia develops when blood stem cells in the bone marrow make abnormal blood cells, which over time crowd out normal blood cells, affecting their ability to function as they should.

The paper is published online in the journal “Nature”.  You can also read more about this research here.

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