UT Southwestern Researchers Identify Receptor Compound That May Yield New Leukemia Treatment

zhang and zheng.jpeg
UT Southwestern
Drs. Junke Zheng (left) and Chengcheng "Alec" Zhang.
The ability of a leukemic cell to remain in an immature state, capable of relentlessly propagating, has remained one of the vexing obstacles to the effective treatment of leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia.

Rather than maturing, or differentiating, inside the blood-cell forming kitchen of the bone marrow, they grow and spread like wildfire, replacing the mature blood cells and leaving the body vulnerable to all manner of infectious disease and unchecked bleeding.

But researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have cracked the code to leukemia's prolific reproduction. They've identified an immune-system receptor protein that prevents these blood cancer cells from maturing, allowing them instead to multiply. "In our case, with the leukemia we study, we can probably try to either block the signaling of this receptor to keep the leukemia cells more differentiated, or have some way to destroy this receptor," Dr. Chengcheng "Alec" Zhang tells Unfair Park. "If we block the signalling of this receptor, then it kind of slows down leukemia."

So far, the use of certain chemicals to block these receptor proteins has been successful in hobbling leukemia's growth in studies involving mice, as detailed in the most recent issue of the journal Nature.

Their findings, however, may yield a second application. The same receptor protein that promotes the deadly replication of blood cancer cells also promotes the "stemness" of stem cells. Stem cells are currently used in the treatment of leukemia. A patient's immune system can essentially be stunned into submission with chemotherapy or radiation and rebooted with an infusion of healthy blood-forming stem cells. Keeping the stem cells from differentiating -- and thereby becoming useless -- while in culture is often difficult. "A major problem in the lab is that (the stem cells) differentiate too fast," Zhang says. "They lose their ability to replicate."

This receptor protein could maintain their potency.

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Brantley,Would you explain the mechanism for blocking the receptors?


Having lost a sister last year to AML, I have seen and experienced more leukemia treatments than I ever thought I ever would while she was at Baylor. Walking the halls of the new cancer building with everyday people wearing masks and a loss of hair is something everyone should try once just to see what is hiding in plain sight. AML is a nasty killer that you don't want to have as an enemy.

While I am glad to see that there are Cancer centers sprouting as fast as Starbucks, it does chill ones soul to stop and think about that very fact that they exist at all. I believe Texas Oncology centers are now numbering 135 throughout Texas and I'd call that a 'canary in the coal mine' if there ever was one.

Congrats to UT Southwestern researchers, and I hope DMN does as big of an article about that as they did crucifying Ken Wildenthal.

Brantley Hargrove
Brantley Hargrove

 As it was explained to me, it can be done in two ways: By destroying the receptor protein or introducing a chemical compound that prevents it from binding with the leukemic cells.

Reality Check
Reality Check

Cancer centers sprouting as fast as Starbucks.....

Rates have not shot up correspondingly.

Canary in a coal mine maybe just a bit if quackery.

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