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Targeted attack on lymphocytic leukaemia possible

(Vienna, 30 July 2010) Dr. Medhat Shehata from Department of Medicine I, Division of Haematology/Haemostaseology, at MedUni Vienna has been able to show in a work published in the specialist journal "Blood" how targeted destruction of cancer cells is possible in lymphocytic leukaemia patients without damaging the surrounding tissue. It will soon be possible to use this targeted therapy, which is atraumatic for people, in everyday clinical practice.

The milieu around the tumour cell (microenvironment) plays a key role in its survival. The precise mechanisms at the molecular level are largely unknown but Medhat Shehata and his team have been able to take a major step in the battle against lymphocytic leukaemia here.

In a co-culture system (tumour and milieu) it was observed that the signal exchange with lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) between the cell and the environment takes place decisively via certain enzymes (PI3 kinase). With targeted pharmacological/genetic interference of this signal pathway and, at the same time, activation of a tumour suppressor gene (PTEN gene), the programmed cell death of the tumour cell is induced without the surrounding healthy tissue cells being affected.

The first studies show how the PI3 kinase can be influenced to bring about targeted destruction of the tumour cells. This highly precise therapy would also be particularly effective by protecting the healthy cell environment. One particular advantage of the co-culture system is that reliable results can be achieved and there is therefore a possible alternative to animal experiments.

"We hope that in just a few years results will be available which can be used directly in clinical practice. This would be a breakthrough in the treatment of lymphocytic leukaemia and possibly other types of cancer too," says Medhat Shehata, explaining the medium-term future prospects.

Shehata's work was also recently published in the internationally recognised specialist journal "Blood":

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