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Leukaemia treatments 'could get personal'

14 November 2018 08:28

AML is an aggressive form of leukaemia

AML is an aggressive form of leukaemia

Leukaemia patients are now a step closer to personalised treatments after a British study looked at the role gene mutations play in blood cancers.

Scientists from the University of Birmingham studied abnormal white blood cells taken from people suffering with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

The research focused on myeloid cells - key immune system components that fight bacterial infections and parasites - and identified critical genetic "trigger points" that influence cell behaviour.

AML is an aggressive form of leukaemia that affects around 2,600 people in the UK every year.

New drugs

Professor Constanze Bonifer, lead scientist, says the study identified key points in the cell that could be used to target and develop new drugs that treat AML in a different way.

She said: "In acute myeloid leukaemia, genes are targeted by mutations that encode either master regulators controlling cell identity or factors transmitting signals through the cell, therefore the normal process of turning genes on or off is defunct.

"Our research found that, when this happens, the cells step sideways from their normal developmental programme and speed out of control.

"Crucially, (cancer) cells from patients with the same types of mutations always take the same route when they head off in the wrong direction."

Different mutations

Co-author Professor Peter Cockerill said: "Doctors in Birmingham are already testing AML patients for the many different mutations that cause AML. However, now they know which genes are the most important for each type of AML.

"This means that personalised medicine will one day become a reality for blood cell cancers, which will see a different drug being given to treat each form of AML, creating personalised treatment for each cancer patient depending on the mutation that has caused their disease."

Dr Alasdair Rankin, research director at the charity Bloodwise, which funded the study, said: "We need to be smarter about matching the right treatment to the right person if we want to boost survival rates for AML, especially if there are already drugs out there that can help.

"These landmark research findings will act as a blueprint for how to tackle this and could even help with the delivery of personalised medicine in mainstream healthcare in the future."

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Genetics.

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