A new line of treatment discovered for acute lymphoblastic leukemia

February 09, 2007

A study undertaken by a group of Spanish scientists, amongst which were members of the University Clinic of the University of Navarra and the Centre for Applied Medical Research (CIMA) of the same university, have recently discovered a new line of treatment for patients with acute lymphoblastic leucemia. The conclusions of the research have been published in the official journal, Blood, of the American Haematology Association.

It should be noted that acute lymphoblastic leucemia is the most common oncological disease amongst children. This is why the application of this discovery could be highly beneficial for a special group of patients with this disorder - those who show the cellular control pathway known as WNT as altered, - and whose prognosis of this tumour disease is serious.

The WNT pathway is the device that a normal cell needs to activate in order to initiate a process of cell growth and which, once realised, should deactivate itself. However, it has been shown that, in those groups of acute lymphoblastic leucemia patients with the worst prognoses, this cell control pathway appears to be constantly activated. This phenomenon occurs because the mechanisms controlling this pathway have been silenced due to a process which affects gene transcription and known as metilation. The WNT pathway activated in an ongoing manner gives rise to the expression of specific genes whose function is to activate the growth of tumour cells.

Administration of new medicinal drugs

The study has shown, with in vitro trials, that administering a type of medication which impedes this process of metilation or which inactivates the WNT pathway, results in the normalisation of this cell control pathway and, so, impedes the development of tumour cells, inducing the death of the leucemia cells. In this way, this group of medicines will help to enhance chemotherapy results and raise the rates of survival amongst these patients.

The discovery provides a rational basis for being able to use a series of drugs for this disease - such as quercetine (which produces a programmed death of acute lymphoblastic leucemia cells) or Decitabine®, medication, already used with other kinds of pathologies.

The next stage in the research will involve the application of trials, based on these studies, in rats, in order to determine which of these drugs are, in fact, efficacious. Once this has been determined, clinical trials with patients will be proposed.

If the results of the application of this research prove to be a success, one consequence may be that the classification of patients with acute lymphoblastic leucemia can be carried out on the basis of the state of activation of the WNT pathway, as this is considered to be a risk factor in the worsening of the disease and in its possible cure.
-end-


Elhuyar Fundazioa

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