German researchers say they have found a rare population of dormant leukaemia cells, which may help explain disease relapse.
The Munich-based researchers say they have found a method allowing them to isolate dormant cells of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
This involved genetic engineering and the use of dyes to mark cells. They say they have found cells that resemble those that trigger relapse - and that these cells are inactive and therapy-resistant.
They have reported their findings in the journal Cancer Cell.
Removed from their surroundings, the cells proved susceptible to therapy the researchers say.
Researcher Dr Irmela Jeremias, from Helmholtz Zentrum München, said: "This has brought us a small step closer to the global goal of preventing disease relapse in patients suffering leukaemia.
"It might serve as a basis for new therapies that destroy resistant leukaemia cells before they induce relapse."
Dr Jeremias added: "Previously the biological principles responsible for a relapse in leukaemia were not fully understood.
"Our new approach is to isolate dormant cells, which gives us the first possibility of developing therapies that switch off these cells."
Source: Ebinger S. et al. Characterization of Rare, Dormant, and Therapy-Resistant Cells in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Cancer Cell 12 December 2016
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