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New patented method gives clues for leukaemia therapy

Marek Mráz heads the Ceitec MU team that discovered the newly patented method.

A method developed by experts from Masaryk University and the University Hospital Brno helps physicians predict how patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukaemia will respond to the latest treatment. The method is based on measuring the level of molecules that regulate the activity of B cells, whose uncontrolled growth is what causes the leukaemia. The method has recently been patented in the Czech Republic.

“Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is one of the most frequent types of leukaemia in the adult population. However, prognosis and response to treatment differ very widely depending on the patient. Our method can help doctors make a tentative prediction of whether a specific patient will respond well to a specific kind of therapy,” says Marek Mráz, head of the research team that included experts from Ceitec MU and the Clinic of Internal Medicine – Haematology and Oncology at the University Hospital Brno.

One of the ways in which leukaemia develops involves uncontrolled multiplication of B cells. These are immune system cells that normally help protect the body against infection. The B cells look out for infections using their B-cell receptors, molecules on the surface of the cell that send a signal to the cell to start multiplying when an infection is encountered. In people with leukaemia, incorrect regulation of this signalling pathway leads to the disease and some modern drugs treat leukaemia by blocking it.

As Mráz explains: “Our research shows that the activity of the signalling pathway is managed by microRNA molecules and our method is based on measuring the level of two of these molecules. If patients have low levels of these molecules, it is very likely that they have a more aggressive form of leukaemia and will not respond to therapy as well as other patients.” This is the basic principle behind the patent that has been registered with the Czech Industrial Property Office with the help of the Technology Transfer Office at Masaryk University.

At the moment, experts are exploring the possibility of working together with a commercial partner, who could develop a test set for regular use in hospitals.

This patent is just one of many results of the research team’s work, which on 15 September was awarded a prestigious honour from the Czech Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Josef V. Koštíř Award. Researchers continue to examine the signalling pathway that plays a role in the development of leukaemia as well as the effects of substances that can block it.

As Mráz says, “We are looking for potential combinations of drugs that could block the signalling pathway that we are examining and also attack cancer cells through other molecules found on the surface of B cells.”