Researchers May Have Found the Leukemia Cause

A new study may shed light into why leukemia, one of the deadliest cancers, develops in the first place.

Although leukemia is one of the best studied cancers, the cause of some types is still poorly understood, but experts in the US say a new method may make it possible for healthcare experts to discover why the disease forms.

Specialists at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania said that a newly-found mutation in acute myeloid leukemia patients could account for half of the remaining cases of adult acute leukemia which have no known origin.

Senior author Dr Craig Thompson, director of the facility, said the molecular biology of leukemia has been studied for the last 20 years and experts thought they had found most of the common genes for it.

"Now we're able to point to a distinct type of mutation for half of the remaining leukemia's for which we didn't know the cause and between one-quarter and one-third of leukemia's in older patients.

Every year more than 7,000 people are diagnosed with leukemia in the UK, or around 19 people every day, making it the tenth most common cancer, with more than 4,200 new cases diagnosed in 2006 alone.

The new findings, published this week in Cancer Cell, suggest that acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients have increased levels of a molecule called 2HG.

AML is a quick-moving, deadly cancer that starts in the bone marrow and soon moves into the blood, and the specialists found that increased amounts of 2HG stem from a mutation in one of two related metabolic enzymes, IDH1 or IDH2.

Dr Thompson commented: "If we're able to block tumours from producing 2HG, perhaps we would be able to stop the patient's leukemia."

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