Leukemia Researchers Discover Genetic Screening Tool to Predict Healthy People at Risk for Developing AML

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Leukemia Researchers Discover Genetic Screening Tool to Predict Healthy People at Risk for Developing AML

A new way of predicting an individual’s risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is being researched.

An international team of leukemia scientists has discovered how to predict healthy individuals at risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive and often deadly blood cancer.

The findings, published today in Nature, illuminate the ‘black box of leukemia’ and answer the question of where, when and how the disease begins, says co-principal investigator Dr. John Dick, Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network.

“We have been able to identify people in the general population who have traces of mutations in their blood that represent the first steps in how normal blood cells begin on a pathway of becoming increasingly abnormal and puts them at risk of progressing to AML. We can find these traces up to 10 years before AML actually develops,” says Dr. Dick. “This long time window gives us the first opportunity to think about how to prevent AML.”

Dr. Dick is also a Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, holds the Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology, and is Co-Leader of the Acute Leukemia Translational Research Initiative at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

Study author Dr. Sagi Abelson, a post-doctoral fellow in the Dick lab, says: “AML is a devastating disease diagnosed too late, with a 90 per cent mortality rate after the age of 65. Our findings show it is possible to identify individuals in the general population who are at high risk of developing AML through a genetic test on a blood sample.

“The ultimate goal is to identify these individuals and study how we can target the mutated blood cells long before the disease actually begins.”

The study builds on Dr. Dick’s 2014 discovery that a pre-leukemic stem cell could be found lurking amongst all the leukemia cells that are present in the blood sample taken when a person is first diagnosed with AML. The pre-leukemic stem cell still functions normally but it has taken the first step in generating pathway of cells that became more and more abnormal resulting in AML (Nature, February 12, 2014), and continues his quest to trace every step in the evolution of AML, starting with blood cells from healthy people.

Read on: Leukemia Researchers Discover Genetic Screening Tool to Predict Healthy People at Risk for Developing AML

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