Using an asthma medication already available on the market, scientists were able to treat chronic myeloid leukemia by targeting a gene involved with the inflammatory response.
Specifically, the gene Alox5 was found to play a vital role in the development and maintenance of cancer stem cells. Normally, “it processes essential fatty acids to leukotrienes, which are important agents in the inflammatory response.”
The researchers found that chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) did not develop in mice without Alox5 because of impaired function of leukemia stem cells. Also, Alox5 deficiency did not affect normal stem cell function, providing the first clear differentiation between normal and cancer stem cells.
Using this knowledge, the team treated CML mice with two already-available prescription medications: Zileuton and Gleevec (imatinib). Zileuton, an asthma medication, was chosen because it inhibits the Alox5 inflammation pathway. Imatinib is a leukemia medication. Combined, the two drugs “provided an even better therapeutic effect.”
The research is published in the journal Nature Genetics, and is authored by Shaoguang Li, M.D., Ph.D., et al. of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.