Cozy Relationship Discovered Between Leukemia Cells and Blood Vessels

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Researchers from the University of Florida have uncovered an unusually close relationship between leukemia cells and blood vessels wherein the former are able to embed themselves in the latter and effectively hide from the likes of chemotherapy.

A major issue in the treatment of leukemia is finding a way to reach and kill all the leukemia cells in the body, thereby preventing relapse. In the 1970s it was discovered that leukemia cells were hiding in the central nervous system, leading doctors to begin administering intrathecal chemotherapy as a means of reaching and killing those cells. As a consequence, remission and survival rates went up.

Now, UF Health researchers have discovered another method for these cells to hide-- by integrating themselves into the lining of blood vessels. In doing so, their shape alters, giving them the look of endothelial cells (long, thin cells that line blood vessels).

"There's a protective advantage when leukemia cells integrate within blood vessels," said Christopher R. Cogle, MD, one of the study's lead authors and associate professor of medicine. "The blood vessel walls are a shelter for leukemia cells, and we found that leukemia cells can nestle within blood vessel linings and go to sleep."

Cogle and colleagues believe that these cells are likely responsible for many cases of relapse.

"In the race of survival of the fittest," he added, "leukemia cells that hug blood vessels have a greater chance of withstanding chemotherapy and taking over the body."

He also said that those cells have an easy time collecting much-needed nutrients, and that the solution to killing them will likely involve some manner of either preventing their attachment to the vessels or somehow prying them loose.

Source: UF Health

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