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Researchers Announce Discovery That Promises a New Leukemia Treatment

Posted on Aug 31, 2012

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York City have uncovered a clue that could lead to new treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

A rare and very deadly form of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia occurs in about one of every 254 people in the span of a lifetime, the National Cancer Institute estimates. And, the majority of these patients die in the years immediately following their diagnosis.  

According to Dr. Ulrich Steidl, the senior author of the research paper, “We have discovered that a gene called HLX is expressed at abnormally high levels in leukemia stem cells in a mouse model of AML.”

Basically, the Yeshiva University scientists found that this “overexpression” of the HLX gene “caused blood-forming stem cells to become dysfunctional” and form duplicates of themselves.

Although the discovery was made in mice, the researchers also looked at 354 patients with AML. They found that most of these patients—87 percent—were overexpressing HLX. When they looked at a larger group of 601 patients, they also found that the higher the degree of HLX expression, the greater the mortality rate.

Additionally, when the researchers altered the AML cells from both humans and mice and then transplanted the altered cells into healthy mice, the mice that received the altered cells lived significantly longer than did healthy mice that were given unaltered AML cells.

What this means is that there may be hope for a brand-new strategy for fighting AML. “HLX is clearly a key factor in causing the overproduction of white cells that occurs in AML,” Dr. Steidl said. “Our research is still in its early stages, but we’re looking towards developing drugs…so we can improve treatment for AML and possibly other types of cancer.”

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John L. Keefe
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