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Breakthrough research could yield new treatments for leukemia in children

Medical scientists in the United States have discovered the key protein responsible for childhood leukemia. They discussed their findings in Genes & Development.

Childhood leukemia, the most common cancer of children in Canada, is a cancer of the white blood cells. Leukemia develops when abnormal white blood cells form in the bone marrow. These abnormal cells, leukemia cells, travel quickly through the bloodstream and crowd out other normal blood cell-making cells. As a result, a child may not have enough normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets. This raises the body’s chances of infection and other problems.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, nearly 1,500 Canadian children aged 0 to 14 years were diagnosed with leukemia from 2009 to 2013. Of those, about 1,300 Canadian children were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia, and about 115 died from them.

Currently, the survival rate of childhood leukemia is only about 30%. Known risk factors for childhood leukemia include genetic syndromes, radiation sickness, and high birth weight. Symptoms of acute leukemia often appear quickly, over days or weeks, such as fatigue, frequent infections, enlarged lymph nodes, trouble breathing, and weakness.

A new method to regulate the key protein of leukemia

In a recent study published in Genes & Development, a group of medical scientists from Northwestern University, the United States, discovered the key protein responsible for leukemia. By stabilizing the mixed-lineage leukemia gene, MLL1, the scientists were capable to delay leukemia progression in a mouse model of leukemia. This preclinical study provided insights into the direct regulation of the stability of MLL1 through its cleavage by taspase1, an enzyme that in humans is encoded by the TASP1 gene.

A possible approach for clinical therapy of leukemia in children

This breakthrough discovery opens new doors to reshape the future treatment of childhood leukemia. Scientists will need to conduct clinical studies to confirm the safety and efficacy of the new therapy.

Written by Man-tik Choy, Ph.D

Reference: Zhao, Z. et al. Regulation of MLL/COMPASS stability through its proteolytic cleavage by taspase1 as a possible approach for clinical therapy of leukemia. Genes & Development, 2018;33:61-74. DOI: 10.1101/gad.319830.118.

Man-tik Choy PhD
Man-tik Choy PhD
Man-Tik has a Ph.D. in Material Science and Engineering from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His research focuses on pharmaceutical sciences, biomaterial design and development, and advanced manufacturing technologies. Man-Tik has developed a strong interest in knowledge discovery and sharing through his practical training in different joint research projects. He is excited to contribute to Medical News Bulletin and help the public to understand science more effectively. In his free time, Man-Tik enjoys reading novels and painting.
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