The search Activity Of Unusual Genes Distinguishes Dangerous Leukemia

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

New research indicates that doctors can determine whether a person with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) has the most dangerous form of the disease or, instead, a more slowly progressing form. They can do this by analyzing the activity of a newly discovered and unusual class of genes.

The study, led by researchers with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, is published in the Oct. 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The research focused on genes for small molecules known as microRNAs (miRNAs). It showed that evaluating the pattern of expression, or gene signature, for 13 different miRNA genes reveals whether a patient has the fast or slow form of the disease.

"It's vital for oncologists to know which kind patients have so they can properly treat the disease," says principal investigator Carlo M. Croce, professor and chair of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics and director of OSU's Human Cancer Genetics Program.

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"The slow form might not require treatment for many years, but the rapid form must be treated immediately and aggressively."

The study by Croce and a group of colleagues also provides the first report of mutations in miRNA genes, including those that are inherited. "This strongly suggests that this new class of genes plays a role in development of the disease," Croce says.

Inherited mutations, also known as germline mutations, are present at birth and can make a person more susceptible to cancer later in life. Thus, the germline mutations discovered by Croce and his colleagues may be cancer susceptibility genes for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

"If this proves to be the case, testing for these mutations could identify people who are at an increased risk for chronic lymphocytic leukemia," Croce says. In addition, the pattern shown by the mutations, he says, "strongly suggests that two of the miRNA genes are tumor-suppressor genes."

The study led by Croce evaluated the activity of miRNA genes in

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