Important discoveries have been made by accident in the past, such as the pacemaker and penicillin.
Researchers may have again stumbled upon another medical breakthrough. They may have discovered something that could turn out to be a powerful agent against a particularly aggressive type of cancer.
Scientists from Stanford discovered that it is possible to force leukemia cells to mature into a type of immune cell that may help the body clear up other tumor cells.
The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a rapidly-progressing cancer of the immature cells that differentiate into white blood cells or lymphocytes. There are multiple types of ALL which are classified based on the type of lymphocyte the cancer originates from and how mature these cells are.
The recent study involved the investigation of the most common type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). B-ALL is a particularly aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis.
After exposing the cells to a transcription factor, the researchers found that they began to change shape and size. The team then discovered that these new cells expressed similar genes to normal macrophages and were able to perform various macrophage functions.
Macrophages are a type of white blood cell responsible for eating up damaged cells or foreign material.
These reprogrammed cells were injected into mice without immune systems and they did not cause cancer.
Researchers also have reason to believe that these converted cells will not only be neutralized with regards to their former identity as a cancerous cell.
The next stage of the project is to involve investigating ways to achieve this cell conversion in a clinically viable way, which has already been done for one other type of cancer.