Leukemia: Finding the Cause of the Cause

Ph.D. student identifies a gene associated with b-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia

(RxWiki News) Researchers at Université du Québec à Montréal have identified a gene that may improve the diagnosis of B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most prevalent leukemia in children younger than 20 years of age.

ALL occurs when a DNA mutation develops in a bone marrow cell. This mutation causes the cell to grow and divide, consequently prompting the bone marrow to produce immature cells that become leukemic white blood cells. The amount of these unhealthy leukemic cells increases, leaving no space for healthy cells.

In the year 2010, it is estimated that 5,330 people were diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Between 2003 and 2007, about 60.7 percent of acute lymphocytic leukemia diagnoses were in individuals under the age of 20.

Through a comparison of genes from leukemic mice versus healthy mice, Cyndia Charfi, Ph.D was able to identify sets of genes exhibiting abnormal activity in the leukemic mice. She discovered that abnormal activity of the Fmn2 gene is linked to B-cell ALL. Charfi then tested her finding by studying human cells. She found the same abnormal activity of the Fmn2 gene in patients with B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Although scientists are unsure of what causes the DNA mutation that leads to ALL, this finding is a major advance in research to improve the diagnosis of this cancer which mainly affects children.

The research was conducted by Cyndia Charfi, a Ph.D. student in biology at Université du Québec à Montréal, with the help of her thesis supervisors, Professors Éric Rassart and Elsy Edouard. The results appear in the December 2010 issue of the journal Blood.

Review Date: 
January 19, 2011