Israel has the fourth-highest per capita rate of leukemia fatalities worldwide. In the United States, the blood cancer kills more than 24,000 Americans annually.
According to the Israel Cancer Research Fund, a majority of leukemia treatments today focus on chemotherapy, steroid drugs and stem-cell transplants. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) scientist Dr. Roi Gazit has been conducting intensive research in the hunt for more effective, targeted leukemia treatments.
Gazit explains, “Immune therapies and stem-cell treatments offer great advantages, but there are too many options to choose from. At Ben-Gurion University, our research models will help to better specify which treatment may suit a specific type, and even sub-type, of the disease.
“Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for leukemia. That’s why we need tailor-made models to fit the treatment to the disease.”
Gazit is using hematopoietic stem cells (stem cells derived from bone marrow). These unique stem cells are used in cancer treatment because of their ability to divide and form new and different kinds of blood cells.
Stem cell therapy is considered to be the next frontier within medicine. Different types of stem cells are being used in research for all kinds of dreaded maladies from cancer to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Dr. Gazit’s lab at Ben-Gurion University utilizes primary stem cells, which have been cultured directly from a subject, and turns them into a malignant leukemia growth inside of mice. By examining how the leukemia spreads, Gazit is exploring different ways in which hematopoietic stem cells can be deployed in order to halt the leukemia altogether.
The end goal of this research is not only to formulate a cure, but also to help other scientists develop more types of immunotherapy and other ways to use stem cells to combat leukemia.
“With any new information we can gain better understanding, which at the end of the day translates into better treatment,” he says.
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