Science

Cancer: Blood Leukemia Genes Identified

By Nina Sen , May 02, 2013 12:58 PM EDT
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Researchers have identified the major gene mutations that cause acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

As part of the study, investigators from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Research Network analyzed genetic data collected from 200 patients with acute myeloid leukemia. They found each case of leukemia had mutations in only 13 genes, a smaller number than in most other cancers such as breast cancer, lung cancer or other tumors. However, they also found more than 1,800 genes mutated at least once in the 200 samples, which suggests leukemia takes different pathways to mutate.

The team identified nine subtypes for the disease and said future research could build on the data to identify treatments.  Physicians hope that future research will allow them to be able to look at such subtypes for different cancers and to select the most effective treatments on a case-by-case basis.

"We now have a genetic playbook for this type of leukemia. We don't know all the rules yet, but we know all the major players. This information can help us begin to understand which patients need more aggressive treatment right up front, and which can be treated effectively with standard chemotherapy," study co-leader Dr. Timothy Ley, associate director for cancer genomics at the Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a university news release.

According to the Mayo Clinic, AML is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that can spread very quickly. In the illness, leukemia cells or abnormal blood cells build up in the bone marrow and blood, so there is less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Leukemia cells can also spread to other parts of the body, including the brain and central nervous system. About 15,000 Americans could be diagnosed with AML this year, and nearly 10,000 of them will die from the disease.

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