Leukemia Stem Cell Research
Cancer stem cells in leukemia were first identified by researchers in 1994Because they have been studied the longest, scientists know more about leukemic cancer stem cells than they know about stem cells in other kinds of cancer. Cancer stem cells were first discovered in 1994, when University of Toronto researchers found them in acute myeloid leukemia. Within a few years, researchers identified cancer stem cells in other types of leukemia, as well.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow. There are different types of leukemia, but they all start when something goes wrong with blood-forming cells in bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside bones. In leukemia, some of the cells created when these blood-forming cells divide are abnormal. They keep dividing uncontrollably, crowding out normal blood and immune cells we need to survive.
Some leukemias are more common in children; others usually develop in older adults. Without treatment, all leukemias can be fatal. The good news is that researchers have developed new anti-cancer drugs that can keep some leukemias in remission for years. In other types of leukemia, malignant stem cells can be killed with radiation and replaced with donated stem cells in a procedure called a bone marrow transplant.
But even when initial treatment is successful, leukemia often comes back. Scientists believe this is because even the most aggressive therapy does not kill all the cancer stem cells. To cure this type of cancer, scientists need a better understanding of what causes blood-forming stem cells to start behaving abnormally.
Sean Morrison, Ph.D., the Henry Sewall Professor of Medicine, directs the Center for Stem Cell Biology in the University of Michigan's Life Sciences Institute. Researchers in Dr. Morrison's lab are trying to find and understand differences between normal blood-forming stem cells and cancer stem cells in leukemia.