In Brief
Scientists have discovered a new treatment for leukemia that may prove to be a better alternative to existing methods of combating the disease, allowing us to fight cancer without killing healthy cells.
Improved Treatment

Improved treatments could soon be available for one of the most aggressive cancers—AML (acute myeloid leukemia)—thanks to researchers from Walter and Eliza Hall institute in Melbourne.

It is exciting news, but as is always the case with medical breakthroughs, treatments must undergo rigorous testing and get approval from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) before they can be used. So there is no guarantee that this will be implemented, but it is exciting research.

In essence, the Australian scientists identified a protein crucial to stopping the spread of the blood cancer called Hhex protein.

By cutting off production of the Hhex protein in laboratory conditions, results show that cancer can be stopped from spreading uncontrollably. The Hhex protein is also not required in healthy blood cells, which makes it a great alternative treatment to typical AML treatments that normally have damaging side-effects.

“Most existing treatments for AML are not cancer cell-specific, and unfortunately kill off healthy cells in the process,” said one of the researchers, Matt McCormack. “Hhex is only essential for the leukaemic cells, meaning we could target and treat leukemia without toxic effects on normal cells, avoiding many of the serious side-effects that come with standard cancer treatments.”

Matt McCormack and Ben Shields. Image Credit: http://www.wehi.edu.au
Matt McCormack and Ben Shields. Image Credit: WEHI
Hhex Protein

The researchers, who have published their work in the journal, Genes & Development, are now looking at whether the same results can be recreated in humans.

“Hhex only regulates a small number of genes and is dispensable for normal blood cells,” adds McCormack. “This gives us a rare opportunity to kill AML cells without causing many side-effects. We now hope to identify the critical regions of the Hhex protein that enable it to function, which will allow us to design much-needed new drugs to treat AML.”

If clinical trials are successful with this particular treatment, widespread use may just be a few years away (which seems like a long time, but could mean all the difference to a host of individuals with this form of cancer).

In the end, this could potentially save lives and save patients from the difficulties of currently available treatments.