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White blood cell link to cancer growth

Health & Medical

White blood cells in bone marrow play a critical role in the proliferation and spread of a common blood cancer, South Australian researchers have found.

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The University of Adelaide Researchers from the Myeloma Research Laboratory have uncovered the importance of white blood cells – called macrophages – which could lead to new treatments for multiple myeloma.

Lead researcher Khatora Opperman said while previous therapies attempted to fight multiple myeloma by focusing on the disease itself, the pre-clinical study targeted the supporting cells.

“With most cancers, mutations in your cells, those cells become abnormal and they start to grow out of control,” she said.

“In multiple myeloma, a type of blood cell within the bone marrow starts to grow out of control and spread throughout the bone marrow.”

“We’ve found that there’s a certain cell type within this space, the macrophages, that are critical in helping the cancer cells to get to the bone marrow but also help them grow and progress to a full-grown cancer once they’re there.”

Opperman, below right, said confirming the role of macrophages in myeloma establishment and growth within bone marrow, provided another potential avenue to attack multiple myeloma.

The Myeloma Research Laboratory is located within the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) in Adelaide.

The researchers eliminated macrophages in an established disease setting and observed a more than 50 per cent reduction in the size of tumours in a preclinical model.

“This is a really exciting piece of data, which tells us how important these cells are, but it’s not really a practical therapy for patients, at the moment,” Opperman, a PhD student, said.

“Given the vital role macrophages play in the immune system, we can’t eliminate or even significantly reduce them in people suffering multiple myeloma.”

Macrophages engulf and digest cellular particles, such as foreign substances, microbes and cancer cells.

However, they also help provide an ideal environment within bone marrow for multiple myeloma cancer cells to grow.

Opperman said the next research task was to isolate which macrophages, or characteristics of macrophages, were most important in promoting the progression of multiple myeloma.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out is there a certain subset of the cells that are really important so can we target that subset. Or, is there something, say on their surface, we can target,” she said.

“There are many different types of macrophage, so it could be that some are more relevant than others”

Multiple myeloma is a cancer caused by malignant plasma cells that form in bone marrow. It is most common in people more than 60 years old with almost all sufferers older than 40.

About 1800 Australians are diagnosed with multiple myeloma each year and its prevalence is increasing as the population ages.

“Multiple myeloma can lead to brittle bones, and impaired red blood cell formation or immunity,” Opperman said.

“It’s the second most common blood cancer and it’s still incurable.”

The study was published in Neoplasia.


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