Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Wednesday, 28 April 2010 10:13 UK

Leukaemia cells 'killed quicker'

Leukaemia cells before and after treatment
The team examined leukaemia cells before (left) and after treatment

Scientists have claimed to have found a way of killing leukaemia cells quicker and more effectively.

The Simon Flavell Research Laboratory in Southampton used a compound from the common gypsophila plant to break down the membrane of the leukaemia cells.

This allows antibodies with toxins to penetrate and kill the cells.

But the team admits it is unclear what effect the treatment may have on humans and any drug would take at least three years and cost millions to develop.

But the researchers at the charity-funded laboratory say there has already been interest from pharmaceutical companies.

The team collaborated with scientists in Berlin who had been using the gypsophila plant in tests to treat breast cancer.

'Very exciting'

A compound from the plant, called saponin, creates holes in the cells after being absorbed.

Special anti-bodies with toxins attached can then be introduced which penetrate the leukaemia cells and kill them much faster.

In the first experiment, the team say 99.9% of the cells died within hours.

The scientists said the first results were so surprising they thought their equipment had broken.

Dr David Flavell
Dr David Flavell hopes the technique can be used in humans

But over the past year, the team have repeated the experiment dozens of times claiming to have seen the same results.

Last week they presented their findings at one of the world's biggest cancer conferences, organised by the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington.

Husband and wife team Dr David and Dr Bee Flavell, who set up the laboratory in Southampton General Hospital 20 years ago when their son Simon died of leukaemia, made the presentation.

They believe the discovery could open the way for new kinds of treatment for leukaemia.

Dr David Flavell said: "I think it is very exciting.

"This will allow us to do things I think which we were not able to do before in patients.

"It will open up a whole new revolution in this kind of antibody therapy - if we can make it work in people."

About 500 children a year are diagnosed with leukaemia - which is a cancer of the blood.

Many of them need chemotherapy which can be debilitating and also dangerous.

Ollie Uglow, 11, from Southampton, underwent five months of chemotherapy for leukaemia two years and nearly died.

His mother Lyndsey welcomed any progress in treating the condition.

She said: "He had pneumonia, he lost his sight for almost a week and he was in terrible pain.

"You never think it's going to happen to you but ultimately it landed in our home and we had to go through it and have him treated."


Last week the team presented its findings at one of the world's biggest cancer conferences in the US

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