What’s the News: Scientists have identified three gene mutations that lead to acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that afflicts white blood cells, which may lead to better cancer drugs in the future. As Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute hematologist George Vassiliou told the BBC, his team’s study “found critical steps that take place when the cancer develops. Identifying the biological steps … means we can look for new drugs to reverse the process.”
How the Heck:
- The researchers discovered the major mutation by switching on the Npm1 gene in mice: They observed that about one third of the mice went on to develop leukemia.
- They knew some other genes were involved because not all the mice contracted cancer. So next, they randomly mutated mouse genes, and then analyzed the mutations in the ones that developed cancer, identifying two other mutations in the process. The second mutation affected cell growth and division and the third affected the cell’s environment.
What’s the Context:
- Acute myeloid leukemia occurs when the body develops an abnormal amount of undeveloped white blood cells. It’s the most common type of acute leukemia, accounting for more than 6,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
- The scientists chose to work on this kind of leukemia because “there had been little progress in developing new drugs.”
- 80beats has covered acute myeloid leukemia in the past, including its link to a possible HIV cure, and more on leukemia in general, from whether the cancer can be passed on from mother to child to decoding a cancer patient’s genome.
- In 2005 Discover covered the news of a possible vaccine for leukemia.
Not So Fast: Researchers caution that it could take decades before new cancer-fighting drugs based on this study come on the market. This present study only used mice as subjects.
Reference: George S Vassiliou et al. “Mutant nucleophosmin and cooperating pathways drive leukemia initiation and progression in mice.” Nature Genetics. doi:10.1038/ng.796
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Bruce Wetzel