Greek Scientists Discover Compound Which Could Treat Leukemia

Dr George Vassiliou (left) and his team

Greek researchers at the U.K.’s Wellcome Sanger Institute have discovered that a component in eye drops has also shown promise for the treatment of an aggressive form of blood cancer.

Scientists have found that the compound, which targets an essential cancer gene, could kill leukemia cells without harming non-leukemic blood cells. The eyedrops are being developed to treat retinal neovascular disease, which is an overgrowth of blood vessels in the retina.

The results, published on Wednesday in Nature Communications, reveal a potential new treatment for an aggressive type of blood cancer which historically has had a very poor prognosis.

Dr. George Vassiliou, joint leader of the research team, declared “We have discovered that inhibiting a key gene with a compound being developed for an eye condition can stop the growth of an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia without harming healthy cells.

“This shows promise as a potential approach for treating this aggressive leukemia in humans.”

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a form of blood cancer which affects people of all ages, often requiring months of intensive chemotherapy and prolonged hospital stays. It develops in bone marrow cells, crowding out the healthy cells, which in turn leads to life-threatening infections and bleeding.

Mainstream treatments for AML have remained unchanged for over thirty years, with the current treatment being chemotherapy, and the majority of cancers cannot be cured.

Dr. Konstantinos Tzelepis, joint lead author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge pointed out that “Our study describes a novel mechanism required for leukemia cell survival … Targeting this mechanism may be effective in other cancers such as metastatic breast cancer.”