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Limiting the growth of AML cells

CCH Newsletter - Spring 2013

Notch pathway found to naturally slow growth of acute myelogenous 
leukemia in pre-clinical study

Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center may have found a way to boost the body’s ability to kill acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Notch signaling, a communication system between the body’s cells, was shown to play a role in limiting the growth of AML cells.

“These new findings can help us determine better ways to harness a patient’s own body to fight their leukemia,” said senior investigator Patrick Zweidler-McKay, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital

Researchers found that the body naturally slows down AML cell growth by expressing Notch ligands. Notch ligands turn on the Notch signaling pathway, which in turn causes AML cells to die. However, there aren’t enough naturally occurring ligands to fully be effective against the cancer.

Results from the study indicated that strong activation of the Notch pathway in human AML cells led to a more than 25-fold decrease in leukemia cells compared to control group. In contrast, human AML cells in which Notch signaling was blocked grew much more aggressively than normal leukemia cells. Mice with the Notch-inhibited cells died more quickly as well.

“By understanding what causes AML to grow or die, we’ll be able to find more targeted ways using the body’s immune system to fight cancer while hopefully sparing some of the strong toxicities associated with systemic chemotherapy,” said Zweidler-McKay.

AML accounts for approximately 20 percent of all childhood leukemias, which is the most common cancer in children according to the National Cancer Institute. The 5-year survival rate for these children is around 60 percent, much lower than the 80% survival rate.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center