Discovery of novel gene mutations in leukemia patients opens up personalized therapy options

By | August 2, 2013

Gene mutations often trigger cancer. These changes in the DNA mostly affect the regulators of cellular metabolism or cell growth, which cause cells to degenerate and proliferate rapidly. Many such gene mutations that cause leukemia have been identified.

In about one third of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) the malignant cells have a mutation in the growth-regulating FLT3 receptor. As the team of scientists headed by Dr. Philipp Greif and Professor Karsten Spiekermann have now discovered, blood cancer cells from a substantial number of patients in a subgroup of AML (so-called core-binding factor leukemias) also carry mutations in this receptor. Mutations affecting amino-acid position N676 have not been previously detected and may allow a new classification of this form of leukemia, which is characterized by extremely high white blood cell counts. "The FLT3 receptor mutations we have found in these leukemia patients provide a new basis for treating the disease," says Dr. Philipp Greif. "We already have FLT3 receptor inhibitors at hand, which we can now use to treat the affected patients."

The study was conducted by the clinical cooperative group "Pathogenesis of acute myeloid leukemia," a collaboration between the Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) and the Department of Internal Medicine 3 at the Hospital of the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU). The project leader and last author, Dr. Philipp Greif, heads a team of young scientists funded by the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK) within the clinical cooperative group. Professor Wolfgang Hiddemann, who heads the group, stresses the importance of this interdisciplinary collaboration: "Our results show in an exemplary way how innovative research methods, such as high-throughput DNA sequencing, allow discoveries, even in structures that have already been thoroughly examined. These insights into the molecular basis of the disease open up new treatment options for patients."

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