Delineating how Obesity Induces Chemoresistance in B-Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Cells

ASPIRE Award

Obesity is an increasingly prevalent health issue; by 2050, it is expected that more than 40% of the world’s population will be overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of developing leukemia, and obese patients with leukemia experience a mortality rate over 30% greater than for non-obese patients. Despite the significance of this problem, little is currently known about why obesity worsens the outlook for leukemia patients. Dr. Curtis Henry and his team at Emory University School of Medicine are undertaking studies to better understand these observations. The team has developed a novel cell culture assay to grow B leukemia cells in an obese-like environment. They discovered that B leukemia cells cultured with chemical factors secreted by fat cells proliferate, aggregate, and are protected from chemotherapy. These cancerous cells also recover quickly after chemotherapy, possibly explaining the disease relapse often observed in obese patients after treatment. Dr. Henry is now identifying the specific factor or factors that cause resistance to chemotherapy in B leukemia cells to understand more precisely how obesity affects B leukemia cells in the patient’s body. The team intends to determine if targeting these factors could improve efficacy of chemotherapy on B leukemia cells in obese-like environments. This work could lead to improved chemotherapy outcomes for obese leukemia patients.