Rare Leukemia Explained

Large granular lymphocytic leukemia STAT3 mutation identified

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Given the long list of side effects associated with traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, newer treatments focus on targets associated with the cancer that are as specific as possible.

While this goal is not always possible because the cancer cells remain nearly identical to normal human cells, this philosophy is the driving force responsible for the enormous amount of molecular research involved in every oncology laboratory.

"Ask your oncologist about clinical trials available to you, or check out http://clinicaltrials.gov/"

Researchers from the University of Helsinki finally discovered the mutation responsible for a rare leukemia known as large granular lymphocytic leukemia, or LGL.

Large granular lymphocytic cells are also referred to as natural killer cells, and represent one of the oldest evolutionary divisions of the mammalian immune system.

The scientists decided that the cause of this mutation, identified as occurring in the STAT3 gene, might be due to long term exposure to a virus or other source of molecular inflammation such as radiation or chemical exposure. No cases were identified where the mutation had been inherited.

Results from the laboratory research were verified in a group of 77 patients with LGL, and the STAT3 mutation was present in 40 percent of those patients.

Researchers noted that this was consistent with expectations, as the complex interaction between proteins generally means several different mutations can produce the same cancer.

While early clinical trials in STAT3 inhibitors have already been started for a possible treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, it remains to be seen whether inhibiting the STAT3 gene will have a significant effect on the leukemia.

It may very well be the case, as researchers also noted that patients with LGL were likely to also have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis previously.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 17, 2012.

The research was supported by the government of Finland, various charities and educational organizations and the United States' National Institutes of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 23, 2012
Last Updated:
November 8, 2012