Drug-resistant tumors are generally the most loathsome and feared of all tumors. Despite our arsenal of treatments, still they remain. However, according to a study conducted by researchers from Duke University, the National Institutes of Health and the University of North Carolina, drug-resistant tumors may be conquered with blood cells from a particular genetic form of anemia.

Sufferers of sickle-cell anemia have a mutation that causes their blood cells to be misshapen and less efficient at moving oxygen around the body. In areas of the body where there is little oxygen, called hypoxic areas, the sickle cells stick together and to the walls of blood vessels like Velcro. If it is not treated in time, the cells rupture, damaging the blood vessels and surrounding cells as well. In afflicted individuals, sickle cell anemia can cause extreme pain to the affected area and stop blood flow.

However, researchers believed that they could harness the discomfort and pain sickle cell anemia causes and inflict it on the tumors. To start, drug-resistant tumors often are areas with low oxygen supply, part of the reason that they are so resistant to chemotherapy and radiation.

The study was conducted with mice that had hypoxic drug-resistant tumors. The researchers injected the mice with a fluorescent sickle-cell solution. Within minutes, the sickle cells clumped together, blocking the tumor access to its blood supply.

David Terman, one of the study authors from Jenomic Research Institute, explained in a statement, "Once clumped within the tumor, the sickle cells rupture releasing toxic residues that promote tumor cell death."

Though the research is intriguing, Dr. Emma Smith, from Cancer Research UK, pointed out to the BBC that the study was carried out on mice. She noted that further work needs to be done in order to establish whether the treatment is safe to perform on humans.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.