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Fusing genes could hold leukaemia treatment clues

Pioneering cancer scientists at The University of Nottingham are to investigate why a rare form of leukaemia is triggered when two genes fuse together.

It is hoped the research will lead to the discovery of potential new drugs to treat the rare form of acute myeloid leukaemia, which currently affects 2,000 adults and more than 100 children in the UK every year.

Professor David Heery and Dr Karin Kindle in the University’s School of Pharmacy have been awarded a £150,000 grant from the AICR (Association of International Cancer Research) to study how the abnormal fusion of MOZ and TIF2 genes affects bone marrow cells and, by doing so, contributes to the development of the cancer.

Professor Heery, head of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Sciences, said: “At least 50 genes have been identified that are involved in gene fusions associated with leukaemia. The key question is to discover how MOZ-TIF2 and similar fusion proteins affect cell function.

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“This will be critical in the future discovery of potential new drug treatments for patients with this form of the disease.”

AICR’s scientific adviser Dr Mark Matfield believes the work will have important implications in better understanding a type of leukaemia for which the exact causes are, as yet, unknown.

“This is an aggressive form of cancer and although it can affect all ages it is more common in older people, with slightly more reported cases in men. The main lab tests used in diagnosis are a full blood count and bone marrow biopsy,” he said.

“Without treatment AML will rapidly cause death, but with modern treatment protocols the cure rate has improved significantly in patients who are under 60. Older people tend to do less well, partly because they are often unable to receive the very intensive therapy needed for effective management of the disease.”

Derek Napier, AICR’s Chief Executive, said the grant was in line with the charity’s policy of funding the most exciting and novel approaches to research worldwide.

“We believe it important to fund work that pushes the boundaries and Professor Heery and Dr Kindle are charged with tackling a great scientific challenge that could in future change the lives of tens of thousands of people in the UK across the world.”

Emma Thorne | alfa
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