Learning how leukemia takes over privileged "niches" within the bone marrow is helping researchers develop treatment strategies that could protect healthy blood-forming stem cells and improve the outcomes of bone marrow transplantation for leukemia and other types of cancer.
In a paper in the journal Science, available early online Dec. 19, 2008, researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center show that by blocking one of the chemical signals that leukemic cells release, they could help prevent the cells that mature to become red and white blood cells from being shut down by the cancerous invader.
"We found an approach, in our mouse model, that could help protect the cells that give rise to healthy blood cells, and improve their accessibility for use in autologous transplantation," said study author Dorothy Sipkins, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. "The next step is to confirm this in human studies."
Sipkins and colleagues study the molecular characteristics of tissue microenvironments, or "niches," within the bone marrow where normal, healthy bone marrow stem cells divide and mature. From these niches, the stem cells produce all the different types of blood cells involved in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, fighting off infections and controlling blood clotting.
In patients with leukemia, however, these stem cells lose their powers. Part of the problem is that they are being crowded out by the rapid multiplication and spread of diseased cells as they take over the bone marrow, but this isn't always the explanation.
Sipkins and colleagues have shown that the process is far more complicated, and focused, than simply overcrowding. Using sophisticated microscopy tools, they developed systems to monitor the movements of leukemia cells and hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs)--a group of cells that includes stem cells as wel
|Contact: John Easton|
University of Chicago Medical Center