Medical scientists have identified a protein - DYRK1A - that encourages the development of a specific type of leukemia in children who have Down syndrome.
This discovery could lead to drugs that target this protein and potentially prevent the onset of the cancer.
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Children with Down syndrome are known to be more likely to develop two types of leukemia - acute megakaryoblastic leukemia (AMKL) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) - than children without the condition. Until now, the cause of this increased risk has been a mystery.
A research team, led by John Crispino, Ph.D. at Northwestern University, Chicago, has pinpointed that a protein that's overly abundant on the chromosome responsible for Down syndrome may be the culprit.
A genetic condition, individuals with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21. The goal of Crispino's work was to determine which genes on this chromosome are responsible for the increased leukemia risk.
They found that DYRK1A is found on chromosome 21 in mouse models. Researchers also discovered that blocking the activity of this protein inhibited the growth of AMKL cell lines in individuals with Down syndrome.
As a result of these findings, Crispino and his team suggest that developing molecules that interfere with DYRK1A activity may block AMKL in children with Down syndrome.
This research, funded by the National Cancer Institute, is published in the March 1, 2012 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The authors have declared that no conflict of interest exists.