In cancer, healthy cells transform into malignant cells with drastically altered properties, such as the capacity to divide uncontrollably.
Leukemia is a type of blood malignancy that starts in the bone marrow and produces a significant number of abnormal blood cells due to a lack of normal blood cells. Bleeding and bruising, bone discomfort, weariness, fever, and a higher risk of infection are all possible symptoms.
While the actual etiology is unknown, it is thought to be caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors, including smoking, ionizing radiation, and exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene, chemotherapy, and Down syndrome.
Despite being the most frequent type of cancer in children, adults account for more than 90 percent of all leukemia cases.
Wouldn’t it be great if highly proliferative leukemia cells, which grow and divide quickly, could turn back into normal cells that don’t divide? To put it another way, it’s like returning a toy to its box.
This has been accomplished by new research led by scientists from Spain and Israel.
The article shows how leukemia cells transform into normal cells that no longer proliferate by altering the chemical alterations – known as epigenetics – of messenger RNA, a type of its genetic material.
After extensive research
Cancer occurs when healthy cells transform into malignant ones with significantly different properties, such as the ability to divide uncontrollably. Various molecular modifications responsible for this switch from healthy to malignant tissue have been the subject of extensive research in recent decades. But until today, scientists knew relatively little about the opposite process — the transformation of a cancer cell into a normal, noncancerous cell – and the variables that may promote this transformation.
“We know that one strategy that human tumors have to dodge the effectiveness of drugs is to change their appearance, becoming another similar cancer but insensitive to the drug used,” the researchers added. “For example, leukemias of the lymphoid lineage are switched to the myeloid strain to escape treatment.”
With this in mind, they wanted to learn more about the molecular pathways that led to this change in the cells. They looked at an in vitro model (an experiment done outside of a real organism, usually in a test tube or petri dish) in which leukemia cells can be pushed to transform into macrophages, which are a type of innocuous immune cell.
The results of the experiments revealed that the transformation of malignant cells into macrophages required a massive revision in the chemical alterations occurring on their messenger RNA – the carriers that help proteins develop. The modifications notably impacted the distribution of methylation adenine, an epigenetic signature.
This alteration in the angle established between two neighboring chemical bonds of these molecules renders the proteins that identify leukemia unstable while promoting the emergence of microphages – proteins that are characteristic of newborn normal cells.
Despite the fact that this line of study has yet to be tested on patients, the team believes it is promising and worthy of further investigation as a new way to fight leukemia.
The more tactics are found to combat leukemia, the more hope there is for the half a million patients diagnosed annually with blood cancers around the world.
Perhaps, in the future, oncologists and hematologists will include the transformation of leukemia cells into innocuous types in their arsenal against cancer.
“The first preclinical drugs against this target have already been developed in experimental models of malignant blood diseases, so we provide another reason why these novel drugs could be useful in cancer therapies, particularly in the case of leukemias and lymphomas,” the added.
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