Now the team wants to know why these three forms arose in the same genetic background. Teitell theorizes that there may be different cell pathways -- or highways that cells use to send signals -- involved in the three different types of lymphoma. If Teitell and his team can identify the pathways, they can attempt to block them with new drugs, Teitell said, akin to hitting the brake on a car or turning off a light switch. The idea is to interrupt the cell signal before it triggers the genetic mutation that causes the cancer to begin to grow.
"I think we may have identified an important mechanism that links certain signaling pathways with the causation of certain cancers, in this case in the immune system but perhaps in other parts of the body as well," Teitell said.
Lymphomas are cancers that start in lymphoid tissue, also called lymphatic tissue. The lymphatic system is important for filtering germs and cancer cells, as well as fluid from the extremities and internal organs. Lymphoid tissue is found in many places throughout the body, including lymph nodes, the thymus, the spleen, the tonsils and adenoids, in the bone marrow, and scattered within other systems, such as the digestive and respiratory systems.
About 60,000 Americans will develop lymphomas, and 26,000 people will die of the disease this year alone, according to the American Cancer Society.
The next step for Teitell and his research team will be to develop molecules that block the action of TCL1, trying to discover what cell pathway or pathways are being used by cells destined to become malignant. They also are working to discover if TCL1 is abnormally expressed in other human cancers.