Personalized medicine is taking on a new meaning. Bioresearchers began creating human body parts from stem cells, but now are moving on to creating human diseases. The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is already growing tumors, as we saw in October. The University of Wisconsin, Madison is now following suit by growing personalized leukemia cells.
The reason why Madison researchers are intent on growing leukemia cells is very similar to the reasons the UIUC team is growing tumors: it gives researchers a chance to experiment on disease without harming patients. In the case of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), the cancer itself is usually treatable, but stem cells remain, leaving the threatening possibility of relapse, especially if the patient reduces their medication dosage.
In the words of Dr. Igor Slukvin, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at UW-Madison, “Treatment doesn’t eliminate the stem cells that cause chronic myeloid leukemia. We know we can treat CML, but we can’t cure it. The stem cells persist.”
Growing these stem cells outside of the body gives researchers the unique chance to work with the patient’s exact disease. From the leukemia cells, Slukvin can produce the underlying induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that indicate how the cancer initially took hold and how it will progress.
“If we make iPSCs from stored patient samples collected at different stages of diseases, we can produce from these iPSCs primitive leukemia cells that capture different stages of leukemia progression,” says Slukvin in a recent Madison article.
In fact, Slukvin and his team have already used these iPSCs to pinpoint a key protein to leukemia survival, known as olfactomedin 4. They next plan to develop drugs and/or antibodies to target this protein to see if they can loosen the hold of leukemia and potentially cure it for good.
This work was funded by grants from the NIH. For further reading regarding funding for the University of Wisconsin, Madison and its studies, click on the link below.
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