Hide and seek
UF Health researchers luring cancer out of hiding spots to prevent relapse
By April Frawley
In scary movies, the killer often comes back to life mysteriously, attacking again when the main character least expects it. Blood cancers are like this too, finding a safe spot to hide during treatment and then striking again when a patient is in remission.
The return of a blood cancer, such as leukemia, after treatment is one of the biggest challenges patients and physicians face, which is why UF Health researcher Christopher Cogle, M.D., is leading a research effort to root these cancer cells out of their hiding spots and kill them.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society recently awarded Cogle and his team a two-year, $800,000 grant to find compounds that interfere with cancer cells’ ability to go into hiding. Cogle was one of 14 researchers in the United States to receive funding through the society’s Quest for Cures program.
“We will look for compounds that interrupt the binding of blood cancer cells to blood vessels,” said Cogle. “Recently we found that blood vessels are safe havens for leukemia cells and that targeting these sanctuaries makes the leukemia cells more susceptible to chemotherapy. A major goal of my research group is to make blood cancers more vulnerable to treatment by evicting them from their hiding spots.”
The researchers are initially focusing on blood vessels because they run in and out of the bone into the spongy inner layer of the bone marrow, forming several cozy spots for cancer cells to lie in wait. Cogle teamed with researcher Edward Scott, Ph.D., to develop a mouse model that will allow them to track human blood cancer cells as they travel in and out of the bone marrow. The researchers will analyze where the cells go during chemotherapy and where they reemerge after treatment, Cogle said.