Hematological malignancies including acute leukemia, and multiple myeloma are disorders characterized by the accumulation of neoplastic hematopoietic cells, resulting in aggressive clinical manifestations with poor prognosis. The therapeutic approach to these disorders is basically chemotherapy for achieving complete remission based on the concept of total cell kill. However, severe side effects and complications such as serious infection and bleeding due to anti-cancer drugs are major problems in the clinical setting. In addition, repeated episodes of relapse of the disease may lead to refractory or chemotherapy-resistant disorders. These problems are occurred because anti-cancer agents have effects on both cancer cells and normal hematopoietic cells. The clinical evidences thus suggest the limitations of the chemotherapy for hematological malignancies: novel effective therapeutic approaches with less toxicity are therefore actively being sought. Differentiation-inducing therapy employing a physiologically active derivative of vitamin A, all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), brought remarkably advances in the therapeutic outcome of APL at the end of last century. More recently, the clinical success of imatinib mesylate (STI571), potent competitive inhibitor of the Bcr/Abl protein tyrosine kinase, in the treatment of CML has focused enthusiasm toward molecular targeted therapy for the hematological malignancies. The therapeutic activity of these agents can be explained by their abilities to modify cellular growth, differentiation, and apoptosis in cells by activating unknown gene programs that molecular cellular proliferation. We have actively sought out new agents among natural products and cytokines with the ability to induce cellular differentiation and apoptosis. In this symposium, I will present our recent data of these novel compounds and their molecular mechanisms for inducing differentiation and apoptosis of hematological malignant cells.
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