Scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have identified distinctive genetic changes in the cancer cells of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that cause relapse. The finding offers a pathway to designing treatments for ALL relapse in children and, ultimately, in adults.
The most common childhood cancer, ALL affects thousands of children annually in the United States. Although more than 80 percent of ALL cases are cured, relapse is a significant problem, with only 30 percent of children with relapsed ALL surviving.
Previous studies had found some evidence for genetic differences between the cancer cells of ALL patients at initial diagnosis and those who relapsed. That information was limited, and there had never been a broad comparison of the entire genomes of ALL at initial diagnosis and at subsequent relapse.
In the study that appears in the Nov. 28, 2008, issue of the journal Science, St. Jude researchers compared the genomes of the cancer cells of 61 childhood ALL patients when they were initially diagnosed and after they had relapsed. The investigators used millions of genetic markerscharacteristic genetic variations called single nucleotide polymorphismsas guideposts to pinpoint genetic changes characteristic of relapsed cells. Using these genetic markers, the researchers analyzed all of the cells' chromosomes to look for genetic changes called copy number abnormalities specific to relapsed cells. These changes are considered a major type of damaging gene alterations in ALL.
"In more than 90 percent of the cases, we found differences in the genetic alterations present at the time of diagnosis and at the time of relapse," said Charles Mullighan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant member in the St. Jude Department of Pathology and the paper's first author. "Examining the new changes that are arising at relapse tells us a lot about the individual genetic lesions that might confer resistance to treatment
|Contact: Summer Freeman|
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital