Combining math and medicine to treat leukemia

June 19, 2008

Researchers have produced a mathematical model that may lead to the development of an optimally-timed vaccine for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). The model takes into account the natural anti-leukemia response in patients that are treated with the drug imatinib. This approach provides insights on how to improve the treatment of leukemia patients. Details are published June 20th in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.

The study represents a collaboration between researchers at the University of Maryland, Stanford University, and École Supérieure d'Électricité (Gif-sur-Yvette, France).

"By combining novel biological data and mathematical modeling, we found rules for designing adaptive treatments for each specific patient," said Professor Doron Levy. "Give me a thousand patients and, with this mathematical model, I can give you a thousand different customized treatment plans."

The study by Levy, Professor Peter P. Lee and Dr. Peter S. Kim uses data collected over four years from CML patients during imatinib therapy.

"Our results suggest that it is not only the drug that sends the leukemia into remission, it's also the natural immune response," Levy said. "After starting imatinib, the anti-leukemia immune response gradually increases. However, it begins to weaken after it reaches a peak [as the leukemia cells are greatly diminished in number]. This typically happens well into the treatment."

This provides a window for cancer cells to develop drug resistance that could render the therapy ineffective. The authors therefore recommend strengthening the immune system at this, its weakest point through "cancer vaccines" in which pre-therapy blood taken from patients is irradiated to kill active cancer cells and then introduced back to the patient.

Levy and Lee are currently conducting further studies to expand on the results of this research, which they hope will lead to the development of animal models and, eventually, clinical trials.
The research was funded by the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Science Foundation.


CITATION: Kim PS, Lee PP, Levy D (2008) Dynamics and Potential Impact of the Immune Response to Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. PLoS Comput Biol 4(6): e1000095. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000095


To speak with Doron Levy, contact Ellen Ternes, 301-405-4627,
To speak with Peter Lee, contact Krista Conger, 650-725-5371,


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