28 May 2024

Findings from a British study suggest that intense exercise may improve the effectiveness of a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) – though the clinical effectiveness is yet to be proven.

A laboratory study conducted at the Universities of Birmingham and Bath found that a single bout of exercise increases the number of natural killer cells – and that they are also much more effective than otherwise at killing cancer cells in combination with rituximab.

The study also found an increase in the number of cancer cells present in blood samples immediately after exercise. This may make them more susceptible than otherwise to the antibody therapy, the researchers say.

The findings have been published in the journal Brain Behavior and Immunity. The study involved 20 patients with treatment-naïve CLL, who undertook 30 minutes of cycling. Blood samples were taken before and after exercise, from which NK cells were isolated. These NK cells were then incubated with CLL cells, with or without rituximab.

Exercise was linked with a 254% increase in the number of effector natural killer cells (CD3- CD56+ CD16+) and a 67% increase in cancer cells in the blood. Combined with rituximab, the NK cells doubled in their effectiveness at killing cancer cells.

Researcher Dr James Turner, of the University of Birmingham, said: “These findings show a potential benefit to patients undergoing a very particular type of treatment and could open up new avenues of research to determine whether exercise can improve the way other cancer treatments work.”

Fellow researcher Dr John Campbell, of the University of Bath, said: “Cancer cells often try to ‘hide’ in the body, but it seems that exercise works to move them out into the bloodstream, where they are vulnerable to the antibody therapy and the killing capabilities of natural killer cells.”

Caroline Geraghty, of Cancer Research UK, said: “This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that exercise can be helpful before, during and after cancer treatment. We know that being physically active before and after treatment can help cancer patients cope better with treatment, aid recovery and improve mental wellbeing.

“It is interesting to see that exercise could also improve the efficacy of treatment for some types of blood cancer, although more research in a larger group of patients is needed.”



Collier-Bain HD, Emery A, Causer AJ, Brown FF, Oliver R, Dutton D, Crowe J, Augustine D, Graby J, Leach S, Eddy R, Rothschild-Rodriguez D, Gray JC, Cragg MS, Cleary KL, Moore S, Murray J, Turner JE, Campbell JP. (2024) “A single bout of vigorous intensity exercise enhances the efficacy of rituximab against human chronic lymphocytic leukaemia B-cells ex vivo.” Brain Behavior and Immunity, May 2024, doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2024.03.023.

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159124003040

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