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Easier to predict the future for leukemia patients

Researchers at Umeå University in Sweden are showing that the length of telomeres in leukemia cells is tied to specific genetic aberrations and is an independent diagnostic marker that can tell us something about the future prospects for leukemia patients.

A research team directed by Professor Göran Roos at the Department of Medical Bioscience, Pathology, is behind the study, which is now being published in the journal Blood.

The study, carried out in collaboration with colleagues at Ulm University, Germany, and at Uppsala University, Sweden, shows that the length of telomeres in chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLL) cells is tied to specific genetic aberrations of known prognostic significance.

Cases with no chromosome 17p or 11q evinced short telomeres, while cases with no 13q had significantly longer telomeres. Other known prognostic factors, such as the number of mutations in immunoglobulin genes, expression of the proteins ZAP70 and CD38, and clinical stage, were all significantly associated with telomere length as well. It was interesting that telomere length proved to be a prognostic marker that is independent of all of these factors. In other words, it can tell us more about the future prospects of leukemia patients than previously known markers are able to.

The tips of chromosomes, telomeres, are important for the genetic stability of our cells. In normal cells, telomeres are shortened each time the cell divides, whereas cancer cells usually have stable telomere length. This stability helps lend cancer cells 'eternal' life. The telomere length of a cell is determined by a balance between positive and negative factors, many of which are unknown. Short telomeres have been shown to be tied to unstable genes. This research team has previously demonstrated that patients with CLL where the leukemia cells evince short telomeres (reduced median length) have a significantly poorer prognosis than patients with long telomeres (Grabowski et al. 2005; Blood, 105(12):4807-12).

For more information, please contact Professor Göran Roos, Department of Medical Bioscience, Section for Pathology, phone: +46 (0)90-785 18 01, e-mail goran.roos@medbio.umu.s.

A high-resolution picture of Göran Roos can be downloaded from
Reference: Roos G, Kröber A, Grabowski P, Kienle D, Bühler A, Döhner H, Rosenquist R, Stilgenbauer S. Short telomeres are associated with genetic complexity, high-risk genomic aberrations, and short survival in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Blood. 2008 Feb 15;111(4):2246-52.

Commentary: Lin TS. Do short telomeres shorten CLL survival? Blood, 15 February 2008, Vol. 111, No. 4, pp. 1755.

Bertil Born | Umeå University
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