Henry Winter
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Southampton scientist pinpoints genes to improve treatments for leukaemia

Henry Winter
Posted by
23 Dec 2010

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research scientists at the University of Southampton have homed in on the genome of patients with the most common form of leukaemia to reveal more effective ways of delivering treatments for this blood cancer.

Speaking at the prestigious American Society of Haematology’s annual meeting this December, Dr Jon Strefford of the University of Southampton’s School of Medicine presented the findings of a study of more than 220 adults with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of leukaemia in the UK. 

The study, which is a continuation of previous research funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, used state of the art technology to examine the entire genetic code of patients with CLL to identify tiny changes in DNA that were contributing to the disease.

Initial results published last year showed that patients with DNA deletions on chromosome 13 had a much higher risk of developing an aggressive form of leukaemia and responding poorly to standard treatment. Testing for this deletion is now considered a good way of predicting disease progression.

The new research has shown that there are in fact two distinct types of DNA deletion in CLL patients. The first, which are much smaller, occur on a very specific, and clearly identified, area of DNA. The second, are much larger, occur more randomly, and clearly indicate a more progressive disease. The research indicates that patients with these large deletions should receive more intensive treatment earlier on.

Further to this, the scientists also believe that the larger DNA deletion contains as yet unidentified genes that might be directly influencing the behaviour of the disease. More research will reveal whether these genes can be used as targets against which to develop new treatments.

Dr Strefford said, “These findings are really important as treatment for CLL is still difficult to manage. There is great variability from patient to patient in the rate at which this leukaemia progresses and better indicators of progression are desperately needed to ensure all patients get the best treatment.”

Dr David Grant, Scientific Director of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research said, “This research is particularly exciting because the techniques can be carried across to other forms of leukaemia, as well as lymphoma and myeloma, allowing us to identify genes that will lead to improved treatment for all blood cancers.”