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Health

Discovered: Genetic Misfires That Lead to Acute Myeloid Leukemia

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: Scientists have identified three gene mutations that lead to acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that afflicts white blood cells, which may lead to better cancer drugs in the future. As Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute hematologist George Vassiliou told the BBC, his team's study "found critical steps that take place when the cancer develops. Identifying the biological steps ... means we can look for new drugs to reverse the process." How the Heck:

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What's the News

  • The researchers discovered the major mutation by switching on the Npm1 gene in mice: They observed that about one third of the mice went on to develop leukemia.

  • They knew some other genes were involved because not all the mice contracted cancer. So next, they randomly mutated mouse genes, and then analyzed the mutations in the ones that developed cancer, identifying two other mutations in the process. The second mutation affected cell growth and division and the third affected the cell's environment.

What's the Context:

Not So Fast: Researchers caution that it could take decades before new cancer-fighting drugs based on this study come on the market. This present study only used mice as subjects. Reference: George S Vassiliou et al. "Mutant nucleophosmin and cooperating pathways drive leukemia initiation and progression in mice." Nature Genetics. doi:10.1038/ng.796

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Bruce Wetzel

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