Leukaemia breakthrough made in London
Article date: 10 September 2014
Medical experts could be one step closer to finding a more effective treatment for childhood cancer, following the conclusion of a recent study.
Researchers at Queen Mary University in London have been attempting to gain a better understanding of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is the most common form of childhood cancer in the world.
Their focus was on the mutations of specific genes that lead to the development of the disease, and this particular investigation was conducted among youngsters with Down's syndrome.
Children that have this genetic disorder are between 20 and 50 times more likely to develop leukaemia than others of the same age and their findings have now been published in the popular journal Nature Communication.
The methodology of the study involved analysing the DNA of patients throughout different stages of the disease, which led them to discover that two of the main genes - known as RAS and JAK - are prone to mutating, effectively turning blood cells into cancerous ones.
However, one interesting aspect of this was that the pair do not mutate together, as they are exclusive of one another.
As a result, scientists believe they can use this information to identify which mutated gene has caused the cancer in individual cases to target the disease more effectively, which ultimately means patients will experience fewer side-effects because their treatment will be administered in lower doses.
Professor Dean Nizetic, who conducted the study alongside colleagues from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Singapore, said: "We believe our findings are a breakthrough in understanding the underlying causes of leukaemia and eventually we hope to design more tailored and effective treatment for this cancer, with less toxic drugs."
At the moment, approximately one in six children do either not respond positively to standard leukaemia medication or experience relapses and toxic side-effects. This proportion is increased among youngsters with Down's syndrome, but it is hoped researchers can now work towards improving these statistics.