Un-Zombified Leukemia Cells

Researchers reprogram diseased cells into stem cells, possibly providing a glimpse into how leukemia starts

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has successfully completed the first reprogramming of blood cells obtained from a patient with leukemia.

By transforming healthy and diseased human bone marrow into embyonic-like stem cells, the researchers have laid the groundwork for observing leukemia's onset -- in the lab. The team was able to turn diseased cells back into stem cells, providing a new platform for the study of cancer.

The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and The Charlotte Geyer Foundation, resulted in a reprogramming of blood cells, which is significantly more efficient than converting skin cells (the first mature cells to regress back to a stem-cell-like state). The work could lead to uncovering the cellular events that malfunction and cause cancers such as leukemia, according to Igor Slukvin, who directed the study aimed at generating all-purpose stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood.

When the induced cells are turned back into blood, scientists would be able to watch cancer develop as cancer cells become cancer stem cells. Identifying the very earliest stages of cancer is a crucial focus in modern biomedical science.

This reprogramming of blood cells is very important for developing leukemia drugs, said Slukvin.

Leukemia is characterized by an uncontrolled accumulation of blood cells. Symptoms include fatigue, easy bruising, fever, night sweats, weight loss and discomfort or swelling in the abdomen, among others.

About about 43,050 adults and 3,317 children are expected to develop leukemia in the U.S. in a given year, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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Review Date: 
February 7, 2011
Last Updated:
February 7, 2011