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By Anurag Paul

An Indian-origin researcher at the Stanford University in the US has found a method that can cause dangerous leukemia cells to mature into harmless immune cells known as macrophages.

Assistant professor of medicine Ravi Majeti made the key observation after collecting leukemia cells from a patient and trying to keep the cells alive in a culture plate.

During the study, Majeti and post-doctoral scholar Scott McClellan found that some of the cancer cells in culture were changing shape and size into what looked like macrophages.

The team confirmed that the methods shown to have altered the destiny of the mouse progenitor cells years ago could be used to transform these human cancer cells into macrophages which can engulf and digest cancer cells and pathogens.

“We were giving everything at them to help them hold out,” said Majeti in a report that appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. B-cell leukemia cells are in many ways progenitor cells that are forced to stay in an immature state.

B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia with a variation called the Philadelphia chromosome is a especially aggressive cancer with poor results.

“So finding potential treatments is especially exciting,” Majeti added.

Majeti and his colleagues have some reason to hope that when the cancer cells become macrophages, they will not only be neutralized but may actually assist in fighting the cancer.

“Because the macrophage cells came from the cancer cells, they will already carry with them the chemical signals that will distinguish the cancer cells, causing an immune attack against the cancer more likely,” Majeti explained.

The researchers’ next steps would be to find out if they can discover a drug that will incite the same reaction and that could function as the groundwork for a therapy for the leukemia.


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