Possible treatments for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

ACRF is delighted to be associated with positive research findings leading to possible treatments for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

Scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne, in collaboration with local and international scientists, have found a potential ‘achilles heel’ for this terrible disease which has such a poor prognosis.

They have found that AML cells may be susceptible to medications that target a protein called Mcl-1. Treatments removing that protein from AML cells can rapidly kill these aggressive cancer cells.

“Importantly, non-cancerous blood cells were much less susceptible to dying when Mcl-1 was depleted,” said lead researcher, Dr Stefan Glaser.

“This means that, if Mcl-1 inhibitors are developed, there may be a ‘treatment window’ in which AML cells are killed, while normal blood cells that are essential for health can be spared, helping patients to recover from the treatment much better.”

AML is an aggressive blood cancer with poor prognosis and the most common type of acute leukaemia in Australia affecting children and adults. Of the most severe forms of AML, fewer than one in six have survived for five years after diagnosis.

Mcl-1 is part of the ‘Bcl-2 family’ – a class of proteins which regulate and motivate cancer development. They are known as pro-survival proteins.  “Mcl-1 inhibitors may improve the outlook for AML patients who currently have a very poor prognosis” said Dr Glaser.

The gene for Mcl-1 was known to exist in AML cells, however until now it was not known that Mcl-1 was critical for AML cells to live.

The research has been published in the journal ‘Genes and Development’ in January 2012.