S'pore scientists develop method to use body's immune system to fight leukaemia

An image of a cancer cell.
PHOTO: S'pore scientists develop method to use body's immune system to fight leukaemia

SINGAPORE - Singapore scientists have discovered a way to allow the human body's immune system to recognise cancer cells, opening up new possibilities in the field of leukaemia immunotherapy.

Leukaemia is characterised by the accumulation of cancer cells originating from blood cells, in the blood or bone marrow. 

Current treatments for leukaemia largely involve chemotherapy to eradicate all cancer cells, followed by stem cell transplants to restore healthy blood cells in the patients.

A*STAR's Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) scientists have discovered a new class of lipids in the leukaemia cells that are detected by a unique group of immune cells.

By recognising the lipids, the immune cells stimulate an immune response to destroy the leukaemia cells and suppress their growth.

The efficacy of the immune cells n killing leukaemia cells was demonstrated in a mouse model of human leukaemia.

"This knowledge not only sheds light on future leukaemia studies, but also complements ongoing leukaemia immunotherapy studies focusing on proteins in cancer cells," said Dr Lucia Mori, Principal Investigator at SIgN.

"Current treatments run the risk of failure due to re-growth of residual leukaemia cells that survive after stem cell transplants."

Dr Mori added that the novel immunotherapy method may serve as a complementary treatment for more effective and safer therapeutic approach towards leukaemia.