Scientists claim to have found a new way to beat severe blood cancer by removing a pro-survival protein from acute myeloid leukaemia cells.
A team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research says it has discovered that acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer with poor prognosis, is susceptible to medications that target Mcl-1 protein, the 'Genes & Development' journal reported.
AML is the most common type of acute leukaemia. Some forms of AML occur in children, while other forms are more prevalent in adults over the age of 60. Of patients with the most severe forms of AML, fewer than one in six survives for five years after diagnosis.
In the research, the scientists found that treatments that remove the protein Mcl-1 -- also called "pro-survival" protein, because it can make cells long-lived -- from AML cells can rapidly kill these aggressive cancer cells.
"The gene for Mcl-1 was first discovered in AML cells, but until now it had not been realised that the Mcl-1 protein was critical for AML cells to live. What we have shown is that without Mcl-1, AML cells rapidly die," Dr Stefan Glaser, who led the team, said.
The scientists say that in the future, new treatments for AML will be developed that work by specifically blocking Mcl-1. Glaser said: "We found that many types of AML cells were very dependent on Mcl-1 to survive. When Mcl-1 was depleted from the AML cells, they rapidly died.
"Importantly, non-cancerous blood cells were much less susceptible to dying when Mcl-1 was depleted. This means that, if Mcl-1 inhibitors are developed, there may be a 'treatment window' in which AML cells are killed, while normal blood cells that are essential for health can be spared, helping patients recover from the treatment much better."