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Scientists found a promising new target for multiple myeloma treatment

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Posted June 27, 2019

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. It is a very complicated type of cancer, which initially doesn’t exhibit any symptom, making diagnosis a lot harder. After some time myeloma announces about itself with bone pain, bleeding, frequent infections, and anemia. The 5-year survival rate is just around 35% –  median survival is just around 4.5 years. But now scientists from the University of Adelaide found a new target, which could allow improving myeloma treatment.

Myeloma cells producing monoclonal proteins of varying types. One of the first myeloma symptom is bone pain, but it appears only when the disease has progressed already. Image credit: Manu5 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

For the first time ever scientists have managed to demonstrate the importance of white blood cells macrophages for the disease’s ability to establish and proliferate. Although this is just the very beginning, scientists believe that this provides another avenue to attack multiple myeloma. Currently multiple myeloma is treated by attacking cancer cells themselves, but this is less than ideal and does not provide very optimistic results.

On the other hand, situation is improving and survival rates are getting better. Approach of attacking macrophages could elevate the treatment to a whole new level.

In their research, scientists conducted an experiment. They eliminated macrophages in an established disease setting and observed how it would change the progression of the disease. Scientists found that without macrophages the size of tumours shrunk dramatically.

This essentially means that the cancer began retreating once the macrophages were absent. However, more than anything this proves the importance of the role of macrophages in the progress of the disease – there is still a long way to go before this knowledge can be translated into some sort of therapy.

While eliminating macrophages made tumours shrink, this cannot be replicated in a clinical setting. The simple truth is that macrophages play a significant role in the immune system. Eliminating or even reducing their numbers significantly in people suffering multiple myeloma would have adverse consequences. It is simply not an option.

However, scientists can try and find the mechanism that involved macrophages in multiple myeloma and address it. Khatora Opperman, lead author of the study, said: “There are many different types of macrophage, so it could be that some are more relevant than others. The key influencer could also be something they secrete, or a particular molecule found on their surface.”

The cause of multiple myeloma is still not known and the prognosis is poor. However, researches like this push us a little closer to a cure, Hopefully, in the near future the mechanisms that allow macrophages to facilitate the growth of tumours will be isolated.

 

Source: University of Adelaide

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