Scientists from Imperial College London are researching possible ways to prevent children with Down syndrome from developing blood cancer. Children with the syndrome are 150 times more likely to develop acute myeloid leukaemia than the general population.
The team, which is led by Professor Irene Roberts, has received £80,000 from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to continue their research.
Down syndrome is defined by the possession of three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two. Childhood leukaemia is a cancer of the blood cells which is known to originate in the womb. This research project will explore how the extra chromosome interferes with normal blood cell production leading to the creation of pre-leukaemic cells.
Up to 10 percent of children with Down syndrome are born with a pre-leukaemic condition. With time this condition usually disappears but up to 30% of these children go on to fully develop full-blown leukaemia in their first five years of life.
The Imperial team is seeking to identify exactly what triggers the escalation of the preleukaemic condition in some children with Down syndrome into leukaemia.
Prof Roberts says: “We hope that the project will provide us with some important answers about how the extra chromosome 21 interferes with normal blood cell development before birth. We hope that with this information we will be able to identify ways in which we might prevent the development of leukaemia in children born with Down syndrome.”
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, says: “This study will provide a key insight into the early development of leukaemia cells in children. Once we are able to spot some of the causes or triggers, we will have a better understanding of the development of leukaemia in this particularly vulnerable group.”