Editors' ChoiceCancer

An Irresistible Combination

Science Signaling  09 Sep 2014:
Vol. 7, Issue 342, pp. ec246
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2005874

Unlike most cancers, which have variable mutation patterns, chronic myeloid leukemia is normally associated with a specific genetic alteration, which produces a fusion protein called BCR-ABL. Famously, this protein was targeted with the first cancer-specific drug, known as imatinib (Gleevec), which is still the standard therapy for this cancer. Unfortunately, leukemia cells can develop resistance to imatinib, which does not always require mutations in BCR-ABL. Now, Ma et al. have identified a mechanism for imatinib resistance in chronic myeloid leukemia cells that lack mutations in BCR-ABL. The authors also demonstrated that a U.S. Food and Drug Administration–approved drug called trametinib can overcome this resistance and kill leukemia stem cells without harming the nonmalignant precursors that give rise to normal blood cells.

L. Ma, Y. Shan, R. Bai, L. Xue, C. A. Eide, J. Ou, L. J. Zhu, L. Hutchinson, J. Cerny, H. J. Khoury, Z. Sheng, B. J. Druker, S. Li, M. R. Green, A therapeutically targetable mechanism of BCR-ABL–independent imatinib resistance in chronic myeloid leukemia. Sci. Transl. Med. 6, 252ra121 (2014). [Abstract]