T-ALL leukemia found to differ between adults and children

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) in adults has significantly more mutations than does T-ALL in children, and has mutations in genes other than the mutated genes seen in children with the disease, scientists have discovered. This genetic difference could explain why adults do not respond to therapy as well as younger patients do.

When ALL leukemia occurs in the variant form of T-ALL, immature white blood cells accumulate over a very short period of time, as reiterated in a statement from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (abbreviated as VIB), a life sciences institute in Flanders, Belgium. Optimum treatment involving chemotherapy cures the disease in approximately 75% of children, but in less than 50% of adults.

Jan Cools and colleagues from VIB/KU Leuven (formerly the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in Leuven, Belgium), as well as researchers from University Hospitals Leuven (UZ Leuven), collaborated to identify new genetic mutations that lead to T-ALL in order to find more specific treatments for the disease that might benefit more patients and reduce the side effects seen with chemotherapy. The group used next-generation genome sequencing to identify a series of defects in 15 important genes. Seven of these genes had not been previously associated with T-ALL.

Two of the newly identified genes, RPL5 and RPL10, form part of the cell's ribosome, where proteins are produced. The researchers demonstrated that defects in the ribosome can play a role in cancer activation, with experiments in yeast cells confirming that mutations in RPL10 can cause a change in the ribosome.

“This could be a weak point of the leukemia cells,” clarified Kim De Keersmaecker of VIB/KU Leuven in the VIB statement. “These ‘defective' ribosomes in the leukemia cells could be a new suitable target for the development of targeted therapies.”

Although the investigative team's work is unpublished, clinicians, patients, and anyone else with questions about this research can e-mail their queries (in English or Dutch only) to an address that the VIB has set up for this purpose: patients@vib.be.

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