Genetic cause found for leukemia

November 13, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA -- A team of scientists has discovered the genetic cause of the most common form of childhood leukemia.

The researchers say the findings are expected to lead to new tests for diagnosing this and other types of leukemia, which together kill more children in the United States than any other disease.

The discovery may also lead to new therapies that are far more precise and have far fewer side effects than existing treatments, say Carlo Croce and Eli Canaani, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University who reported the discovery.

What the scientists have found is that a break in chromosome 11 -- one of 23 pairs in the human body -- is the culprit. When the broken chromosome recombines with similarly broken pieces of

chromosome 4, genetic material is swapped and childhood leukemia may develop.

This understanding may help scientists determine whether environmental factors such as electromagnetic radiation from high-voltage power lines, low levels of radiation and chemical exposure somehow promote such genetic breaks and are a factor in the disease, says Robert L. Brent, chairman of the pediatrics department at Thomas Jefferson University.

"The elegant findings by the Croce and Canaani team offer substantial opportunities for progress in the diagnosis and treatment of leukemias," says Samuel Broder, director of the National Cancer Institute.

The findings are being reported in today's issue of the scientific journal Cell.

Leukemia, the nation's seventh most common cause of cancer deaths, is a disease that develops in the body's blood-forming tissues, such as the bone marrow, spleen and lymph nodes. Blood production goes awry, and the body makes large numbers of abnormal white blood cells that choke off delivery of oxygen to vital organs. Eventually, important body functions shut down.

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