Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is the most common acute leukaemia in adults. In this condition, immature blood cells fail to mature into cells that our body can use. Instead, these immature cells accumulate in the blood and bone marrow and destroy the environment needed by other mature cells to do their vital work.
Most conventional chemotherapy is targeted at killing these immature cells. However, this therapy also kills many other cells and can be very difficult for patients to tolerate. A new treatment approach by Cork Cancer Research Centre, is looking at ways to make these cells mature. If they are forced to mature, they can do a normal job and the chaos in the bone marrow can be fixed. This approach is called ‘differentiation therapy’.
This research, lead by Dr Sharon McKenna at CCRC in collaboration with Prof Mary Cahill, consultant haematologist in CUH, has shown that in order for cells to mature properly they have to use an internal recycling process called autophagy. When this process is blocked – cells find it hard to mature. Now that the group have discovered the importance of autophagy and published their findings, they are now testing ways to kick-start the autophagy process and force leukaemia cells to mature with differentiation therapy.