A series of new studies have found a genetic link with leukaemia, with the results showing children with specific gene mutations are more susceptible to the disease.
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common type of cancer in children, and research suggests that there is a two fold chance of getting the disease if this genetic mutation is inherited.
The results of the study could not only help with diagnosis, but also with treatment, as now the gene has been identified as a target, doctors can select drugs by predicting their specific response.
Two reports published in the journal Nature Genetics state that changes in the ARID5B and IKZF1 genes are linked to the development of the disease, which is responsible for 80 per cent of leukaemia cases in children.
Scientists refer to the results as very important in helping them understand leukaemia. Although the disease does not seem to run in families, there has been for the first time, the discovery of a very strong link to inheritance. In the majority of cancers there are a few criteria which are thought to trigger their development including environmental factors, genetic links and chance.
Professor Richard Houlston, head of the Sutton institute’s molecular and population genetic team, advised that the genes encode proteins that are related to the development of white blood cells called B-cells that produce antibodies to fight disease and are most commonly affected in ALL.
“These findings provide the first evidence that genetic make-up plays a major role in the risk of ALL,” he said.
Professor Mel Greaves, leukaemia biologist and chairman of the institute’s section of haemato-oncology, referred to the the work as “a very significant advance” in comprehending the intricate process by which children develop leukaemia. However he said it was important to not assume children only develop leukaemia because of an inheritance factor.
“Genetic risk factors are just one component of cause,” he said. “Finding the triggering exposures still remains a focus of intense effort, particularly with respect to possible future prevention.”
Mary Relling, lead author of the American study, advised that ARID5B was significant in embryonic development and IKZF1 was vital for the growing of lymphoid cells, which are located in the lymph nodes. She added that, even with the genetic mutations, the risk of ALL was still low.
“Like all cancers, paediatric ALL is a multifactor disease,” she said. “But these findings may give us a handle on the mechanism of the disease and drug responsiveness to it.”
David Grant, scientific director at Leukaemia Research, which funded the British study, said, “A complete understanding of how leukaemia develops will lead to new, less punishing, treatments to cure all children with this cruel cancer.”