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Novel weakness in leukaemia cells identified

Novel weakness in leukaemia cells identified
13th January 2016

Researchers have made a new discovery about leukaemia, which could make treatment more effective in the future.

A team at King’s College London, working with colleagues in the US and Hong Kong, identified a pair of genes inside cells that could play a major role in how a certain type of leukaemia develops. 

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is one of the most serious forms of the disease and affects more than 2,800 patients in the UK each year. Currently, they usually have to undergo several rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, which is not suitable for all patients, but the new discovery could significantly improve treatment. 

Like a lot of cancers, AML is able to take over by successfully turning healthy cells into cancerous ones. This, the team found, is bolstered by a set of genes in AML.

The researchers hope that being able to target and block the genes they identified - KDM4C and PRMT1 - would prevent the leukaemia from developing further. 

Funded by Bloodwise and Cancer Research UK, the initial studies in animal models suggest that developing drugs to block these genes could be an effective new treatment.

Dr Áine McCarthy, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Identifying weaknesses in acute myeloid leukaemia cells is the key to developing much needed new treatments for the disease – and to helping more people survive.

“This exciting research has found a new way to target this disease and we look forward to seeing whether this could help patients in the future.”

The study, published in the journal Cancer Cell, deactivated the two genes by using genetic tools and experimental drugs. The team found that this was able to extend life expectancy in animal models.

Professor Eric So, research leader at King’s College London, said the study could be "highly significant" for the development of new drugs.

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