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Progress toward a targeted therapy for a specific form of leukemia

Leuven, Belgium -- Leukemia, or cancer of the bone marrow, strikes some 700 Belgians each year. Scientists are still searching for the cause of many forms of leukemia, including T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL. Now, VIB researchers connected to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven have identified a new player in the development of some 10% of the T-ALL cases: MYB. The scientists have discovered that patients in this group have a duplication of the MYB gene, which increases MYB concentrations. Further research has indicated that MYB might well be an important target for therapies for this group of T-ALL patients.

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL)

Our bodies white blood cells combat foreign intruders such as viruses and bacteria. However, in leukemia, the formation of white blood cells is disrupted. The cells in the bone marrow that should develop into white blood cells multiply out of control without fully maturing. These blood cells do not function properly and thus jeopardize the production of normal blood cells. Among other consequences, this makes patients more susceptible to infections. T-ALL is a certain form of leukemia in which immature T-cells (a specific type of blood cells) build up very rapidly. T-ALL is the most prevalent form of cancer in children under 14 years of age, striking children between the ages of 2 and 3 in particular. Today, with optimal treatment using chemotherapy, more than half of the children are cured.

Combined action of several players

The search for the mechanisms that cause T-ALL goes on ceaselessly. Discovering these mechanisms will enable the development of targeted therapies, which are preferred over chemotherapy. Scientists know that T-ALL arises only when defects occur in several genes simultaneously. So it is not only important to identify the genes that underlie T-ALL, but also to discover which combinations trigger the disease. This is an important step in
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Contact: Ann Van Gysel
info@vib.be
329-244-6611
VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology
15-Apr-2007


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