Chemotherapy is still our best bet when fighting leukaemia and other forms of cancer. However, even though it is the best available option now, it is definitely not without its own faults. Chemotherapy has a wide range of extreme side effects that make patients‘ lives miserable. Now scientists from the University of Edinburgh and Queen Mary University of London made new findings in leukaemia research, which could lead to better treatments.
The issue of chemotherapy is that while it is killing cancer cells, it is also attacking healthy blood cells. This results in a wide range of harmful side effects that are debilitating and significantly reduce patient’s quality of life. Future treatments should be able to affect cancer cells only, but how? Cancer cells and healthy cells are not that different. Cancer cells are not viruses or some kind of invasive organisms – they are just body cells with mutations that went wrong. Scientists took a closer look at acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and particularly a protein called YTHDF2, which may help differentiating between healthy and cancer cells.
Scientists analysed blood samples donated by leukaemia patients. They found that YTHDF2 is abundant in cancer cells. Experiments with mouse models showed that this protein is needed to initiate and maintain the disease. At the same time, YTHDF2 is not actually required for the function of healthy cells. This makes the YTHDF2 an attractive drug target for the future leukaemia therapies – scientists found that interfering with the function of YTHDF2 selectively kills blood cancer cells. Most importantly, YTHDF2 is not needed for the function of blood stem cells either.
Blood stem cells are the ones to make all other blood cells. Scientists found that they are actually even more active in the absence of YTHDF2. This is great news, shaping the future of the therapies for leukaemia. Professor Kamil Kranc, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our work sets the stage for therapeutic targeting of cancer stem cells in leukaemia while enhancing the regenerative capacity of normal blood stem cells. We hope this will establish a new paradigm in cancer treatment”. This means that the new class of cancer drugs could focus on limiting function of the YTHDF2 protein, but, as always, it is too soon to say how far this research can go.
This is just the very beginning of long and tedious process towards new cancer drugs. The process is always very difficult and nothing comes easy. However, this, together with other studies, could spawn a new class of therapies that would cause lesser side effects than current chemotherapy.
Source: University of Edinburgh