One more amazing discovery inspired by an accident? Similarly, 87 years ago the inventor of penicillin, Alexander Fleming returned to his lab after a vacation and found mold growing and killing his Staphylococcus cultures in petri dishes…

After desperate trials to cultivate viable cancer cells and after unexpected observations, group of researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found a method transforming aggressive cancer leukemia cells into friendly immune cells macrophages that can potentially “eat and digest” the original cancer cells.

B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is an aggressive cancer form with poor outcomes, said Ravi Majeti, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and senior author of the paper. So finding potential treatments is particularly exciting.

After collecting leukemia cells from a patient and trying to keep the cell culture viable by all means, scientists observed that adding of myeloid differentiation-promoting cytokines caused unusual cell metamorphosis. Cells were changing size and shape and at the end looked like macrophages, harmless human immune cells. The experience and knowledge pushed scientists to look deeper for reasons of this mystery. 

Experiments have confirmed that the same methodology which was used years ago to alter the fate of the mouse progenitor cells can cause transformation of human leukemia cells into macrophages as well.

The fact that reprogramming leukemia cells was indeed causing their transformation into macrophages was confirmed by their physical appearance, immunophenotype, gene expression, and function. The beauty of exactly this transformation and the great value of this research for cancer treatment are hidden in the natural function of macrophages as they can engulf and digest pathogens, dead or damaged cells and cancer cells. Scientists believe that reshaping leukemia cells into macrophages may assist in fighting the cancer. Moreover, those reprogrammed cells are not just common macrophages, as they come from cancer cells; they are more likely to carry cancer cell-related chemical signals making an immune attack against the cancer more efficient.

Finding the appropriate differentiation therapy drug that will prompt the same metamorphosis of cancer cells in vivo will be the next step of research.

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The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Image  by Nelson Rocha  / CC BY 2.0

Tags: Science

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