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Researchers discover 'Achilles' heel' for lymphoid leukemia
Date:2/11/2013

An international research team coordinated at the IRCM in Montral found a possible alternative treatment for lymphoid leukemia. Led by Dr. Tarik Mry, the IRCM's President and Scientific Director, the team discovered a molecule that represents the disease's "Achilles' heel" and could be targeted to develop a new approach that would reduce the adverse effects of current treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The study's results are being published today in the prestigious scientific journal Cancer Cell.

The researchers' results have direct implications for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the four most common types of leukemia. ALL is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood that progresses rapidly without treatment. Current treatments consist of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are both highly toxic and non-specific, meaning that they damage healthy cells as well as tumour tissues.

"Even when effective, patients can suffer dramatic side effects from these treatments," says Dr. Mry, who is also Director of the Hematopoiesis and Cancer research unit at the IRCM and corresponding author of the study. "Therefore, they would directly benefit from an improved therapy that could reduce the necessary dose of radiation or chemotherapy, and thus their side effects, while maintaining the treatments' efficacy. Therapies that target specific molecules have shown great promise. This is why, for the past 20 years, I have been studying a molecule called Gfi1, which plays an important role in the development of blood cells and cancer."

When normal cells are transformed into tumour cells, the body responds by activating a tumour suppressor protein that induces cell death. Tumour cells must therefore counteract cell death in order to survive.

"With this study, we found that leukemic cells depend on the Gfi1 molecule for their survival," explains Dr. Cyrus Khandanpour, co-first author of
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Contact: Julie Langelier
julie.langelier@ircm.qc.ca
514-987-5555
Institut de recherches cliniques de Montreal
Source:Eurekalert

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