SCOTTISH scientists have discovered a way to eradicate an aggressive blood cancer for the first time in mice by targeting its so-called ‘Achilles heel’.
Treatments for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) are currently only able to manage the disease but Glasgow University researchers are confident their new technique can kill the cancer-causing stem cells.
Researchers analysed both CML and normal blood stem cells and identified two proteins that were key to the survival of the cancer’s stem cells.
The team then came up with a drug combination which could target these critical proteins and kill the cancer stem cells while leaving normal cells unharmed, according to a study published in the Nature scientific journal yesterday.
Experts hailed the breakthrough as “hugely significant” with implications for other cancers, including acute myeloid leukaemia and brain tumours.
Professor Tessa Holyoake, who led the team from Glasgow University, said: “We are certainly excited by the results shown in the study.
“The research – a fantastic example of precision medicine in action – is at an early stage, but the data we collected has revealed two weaknesses in CML and a potential drug approach to eradicating these key stem cells.”
Existing treatments for this rare form of blood cancer can hold back the disease rather than curing it, meaning the majority of patients will have to take the medication for the rest of their lives.
As well as being expensive, these drugs can cause serious side effects such as diabetes and vascular disease.
Now the team are keen to start clinical trials in humans who have drug-resistant CML, in partnership with researchers from Manchester University.
Dr Matt Kaiser, head of research at Bloodwise, said: “Advances made in treatment for this type of leukaemia have, thanks to research, been one of the great medical success stories of recent years, with the transformation of a usually fatal cancer into a lifelong manageable condition for most patients. The only hope of a permanent cure at the moment is a gruelling stem cell transplant, which doesn’t always work and would not be suitable for many patients.
“Although it’s early days, these hugely significant findings suggest that targeted drugs could be developed to cut the cancer off at its roots while sparing healthy cells, providing hope of more effective and kinder treatments.”