New research seeks to develop low impact treatment vs leukemia

January 26, 2019

New research seeks to develop low impact treatment vs leukemiaCancer spreads fairly easily through the body and is treated through chemotherapy sessions, which can be life-changing.

Huynh Cao, MD, saw the side effects of chemotherapy on his mother –after her breast cancer diagnosis in 1995. The treatment was difficult on her body, and Cao credits it for causing her subsequent acute leukemia that was ultimately fatal.

The experience drove Cao to his “life’s work” at Loma Linda University Health. He sought to develop a low-impact and effective treatment for acute leukemia without the side effects of current options. The inspiration follows the research of the university’s distinguished Professor of Medicine and Basic Sciences David Baylink, MD, who discovered promise in treating inflammatory bowel disease with vitamin D. Cao wanted to use the same methodology to treat leukemia.

Unlike normal cells with a finite lifespan, Cao has said that cancer cells do not have such regulations to cell death and grow unchecked to cause disease like acute leukemia. Cao and his team are currently investigating how vitamin D can prompt deadly leukemia cells to mature and die off. His method involves a gene that converts inactive vitamin D to an active form which is then carried to the bone marrow by stem cells. The modified cell activates surrounding vitamin D, which prompts the nearby leukemia cells to mature. Closer to cell death and no longer “immortal”, the leukemia cells resume a normal lifespan and eventually die. The laboratory research shows promise that the modified cells activating vitamin D would limit their effect to the area of treatment before also dying off on their own.

Cao draws a parallel with a similar leukemia treatment involving vitamin A. In particular, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) sub-type M3, was previously considered to be highly dangerous until researchers discovered vitamin A could prompt those types of cancer cells to mature and die. The disease is now one of the most treatable versions.

But Cao has noted that treatment doesn’t work on all subtypes of leukemia, a cancer with many variations that impact bone marrow and blood. High doses of vitamin D in oral form would be dangerous for a patient, according to Cao. Still, his vitamin D research could reveal a way to treat other parts of the leukemia spectrum.

In recognition of the potential of his research, Cao received US$50,000 in grant funding as part of the Conquer Cancer Foundation’s Young Investigator Award in 2017, along with 66 other researchers. He looks to obtain additional funding for further research on the topic. Cao’s research is currently focused in the lab, using blood from leukemia patients and experimenting with mice, and maybe human testing later on.

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Category: Medical breakthrough

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