London, While it is well known that ageing promotes cancer development, UK researchers have showed that the reverse is also true.
A team from the University of East Anglia (UEA) found that leukaemia — a type of blood cancer — promotes premature ageing in healthy bone marrow cells.
Importantly, the aged bone marrow cells accelerate the growth and development of the leukaemia, creating a vicious cycle that fuels the disease.
“Our results provide evidence that cancer causes ageing. We have clearly shown that the cancer cell itself drives the ageing process in the neighbouring non-cancer cells,” said Stuart Rushworth from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.
“Our research reveals that leukaemia uses this biological phenomenon to its advantage to accelerate the disease,” he added.
The study, published on Thursday in the journal Blood, also identified the mechanism by which this process of premature ageing occurs in the bone marrow of leukaemia patients and highlights the potential impact this could have on future treatments.
The team showed NOX2, an enzyme usually involved in the body’s response to infection, to be present in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cells — and this was found to be responsible for creating the ageing conditions.
They established that the NOX2 enzyme generates superoxide which drives the ageing process.
By slowing down NOX2, researchers showed the reduction in aged neighbouring non-malignant cells resulted in slower cancer growth.
Rushworth said: “It was not previously known that leukaemia induces ageing of the local non cancer environment. We hope that this biological function can be exploited in future, paving the way for new drugs.”