Because it is impossible to predict which acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) patients will benefit, all patients are routinely treated with chemotherapy although only some will respond to the treatment. Researchers from Goethe-University Frankfurt have now discovered a novel biomarker that enables the detection of therapy responders and non-responders with high accuracy. In addition, their research reveals new hope for patients who currently cannot be effectively treated.
The anti-cancer drug cytarabine provides the basis of chemotherapies directed against AML. Cytarabine needs to be activated in cancer cells by the addition of phosphate groups to exert its anti-cancer effects. Prof Jindrich Cinatl (Institut für Medizinische Virologie, Goethe-Universität, Acting Director: Prof Volkhard Kempf) investigated with his research group (funded by the Frankfurter Stiftung für krebskranke Kinder) cytarabine-resistant AML cells from the Resistant Cancer Cell Line (RCCL) collection (www.kent.ac.uk/stms/cmp/RCCL/RCCLabout.html) that he runs together with Prof Martin Michaelis (University of Kent, Canterbury, UK). Prof Cinatl discovered that the toxicity of cytarabine against AML cells correlates with the expression of the cellular enzyme SAMHD1, which enables to predict the sensitivity of AML cells to cytarabine.
Following this initial finding, a consortium led by Prof Cinatl together with Prof Oliver Keppler (who moved from the Institut für Medizinische Virologie, Goethe-Universität to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München during the project) showed that SAMHD1 removes the phosphate residues from the active form of cytarabine and thereby reverses it into its inactive state. In a cooperation with clinicians (led by Prof Hubert Serve, Medizinische Klinik II, Goethe-Universität) it was shown that SAMHD1 levels determined in leukaemia cells also enabled the prediction of the response of AML patients to cytarabine-based chemotherapies with high accuracy. This introduces SAMHD1 as clinical biomarker that can guide cytarabine-based chemotherapies only to such patients that are very likely to respond and spares patients who are unlikely to respond from toxic side effects. In addition, the Frankfurt-led team showed that inhibition of SAMHD1 effectively sensitises cytarabine-resistant AML cells to cytarabine-based chemotherapies, opening future prospects for the treatment of patients for whom currently no effective therapy exists.
The research was published in the journal Nature Medicine on 19th December 2016 and can be found here:
Prof Dr Jindrich Cinatl
Institut für Medizinische Virologie
Klinikum der Goethe-Universität
Paul Ehrlich-Straße 40
60596 Frankfurt am Main
phone +49 (0)69 6301 6409
Goethe University is a research-oriented university in the European financial centre Frankfurt The university was founded in 1914 through private funding, primarily from Jewish sponsors, and has since produced pioneering achievements in the areas of social sciences, sociology and economics, medicine, quantum physics, brain research, and labour law. It gained a unique level of autonomy on 1 January 2008 by returning to its historic roots as a „foundation university“. Today, it is among the top ten in external funding and among the top three largest universities in Germany, with three clusters of excellence in medicine, life sciences and the humanities. Together with the Technical University of Darmstadt and the University of Mainz, it acts as a partner of the inter-state strategic Rhine-Main University Alliance.
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