The future of stem cell research: determine which conditions make the right stem cells in the body work the way we want them to, using stimulating factors for the good and suppressing the bad ones that cause cancer.
“What we found was rather surprising,” Link says. “There’s not just one niche for developing blood cells in the bone marrow. There’s a distinct niche for stem cells, which have the ability to become any blood cell in the body, and a separate niche for infection-fighting blood cells that are destined to become T cells and B cells.”
The findings provide a strong foundation for investigating whether disrupting these niches can improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
In a phase II pilot study led by Washington University medical oncologist Geoffrey Uy, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Link is evaluating whether the drug G-CSF can alter the stem cell niche in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia whose cancer has recurred or is resistant to treatment. The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago to stimulate production of white blood cells in patients undergoing chemotherapy, who often have weakened immune systems and are prone to infections.
But Uy and colleagues will evaluate the drug when it is given before chemotherapy. Patients enrolled in the trial at the Siteman Cancer Center will receive G-CSF for five days before chemotherapy, and the investigators will determine whether it can disrupt the protective environment of the bone marrow niche and make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy.