UConn Researcher Invents Nanoparticle for Overcoming Leukemia Treatment Resistance

Dr. Xiuling Lu (left) and Dr. Rajeswari Kasi
Dr. Xiuling Lu (left) and Dr. Rajeswari Kasi

UConn associate professor of pharmaceutics Xiuling Lu, along with professor of chemistry Rajeswari M. Kasi, was part of a team that recently published a paper in Nature Cell Biology finding a commonly used chemotherapy drug may be repurposed as a treatment for resurgent or chemotherapy-resistant leukemia.

One of the largest problems with cancer treatment is the development of resistance to anticancer therapies. Few FDA-approved products directly target leukemia stem cells, which cause treatment-resistant relapses. The only known method to combat their presence is stem cell transplantation.

Leukemia presents unique treatment challenges due to the nature of this form of cancer. The disease affects bone marrow, which produces blood cells. Leukemia is a cancer of the early blood-forming cells, or stem cells. Most often, leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. The first step of treatment is to use chemotherapy to kill the cancerous white blood cells, but if the leukemia stem cells in the bone marrow persist, the cancer may relapse in a therapy-resistant form.

Fifteen to 20% of child and up to two thirds of adult leukemia patients experience relapse. Adults who relapse face a less-than 30% five-year survival rate. For children the five-year survival rate after relapse is around two thirds. When relapse occurs, chemotherapy does not improve the prognosis for these patients. There is a critical need for scientists to develop a therapy that can more effectively target chemotherapy-resistant cells.  Read the full UConn Today story.