Paradigm Shift - Healthy vs. Cancerous Cells

Leukemia may be treated by promoting healthy environment for hematopoietic stem cells

(RxWiki News) If you focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you’re less likely to get sick. That’s simple logic. Researchers now think this approach might be an effective way to treat cancer.

British researchers have discovered that helping healthy cells stay healthy may be a better way to treat leukemia than attacking diseased cells.

A computer model showed that promoting what the researchers called a “friendly environment” for healthy cells was more effective than using targeted therapy to destroy damaged cells.

Should this model prove to be valid following additional research, there may be a profound shift in how leukemia is treated.

"Focus on staying healthy."

Researchers at Imperial College London developed this model. PhD student Adam MacLean was the lead author.

The team focused on how leukemia, a blood cancer, works. Leukemia stem cells (LSCs) are thought to be at the heart of the disease, helping it survive and thrive. These cells multiply inside the bone marrow, crowding out healthy blood cells.

Within the bone marrow, the LSCs are in a fight to the death with hematopoietic stem cells (or HSCs), which give rise to all the different types of healthy blood cells in the body.

MacLean said his team examined the “two cellular species which directly compete against each other for resources, and our models analyze how that competition plays out within the biological niche of the bone marrow."

For the study, the researchers used computer simulations to find out the approach that resulted in eliminating the most leukemia cells. Maintaining a healthy environment for the HSCs was more effective in fighting the disease than trying to kill the leukemia stem cells.

A study co-author, Michael Stumpf, professor of Theoretical Systems Biology, said in a statement that "maintaining health is more likely to eradicate leukemia than fighting leukemia directly without taking care of the healthy stem cells. And that's a slightly surprising result which nobody had explicitly stated before. It allows us to understand these processes in a way that could be important for potential therapeutic responses."

More work is needed to refine the model and make sure it accurately reflects the interaction of blood stem cells with the human body.

Nearly 49,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with leukemia this year, and about 24,000 Americans will die from the disease.

This study, funded by BBSRC Systems Biology PhD studentship, was published in the January issue of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Review Date: 
January 30, 2013