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Cell death researchers identify new Achilles heel in acute myeloid leukemia
Date:1/17/2012

Melbourne researchers have discovered that acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), an aggressive blood cancer with poor prognosis, may be susceptible to medications that target a protein called Mcl-1.

The research team at the institute was led by Dr Stefan Glaser, from the institute's Cancer and Haematology division, and Professor Andreas Strasser, joint head of the institute's Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division, working in collaboration with scientists from the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases and St. Vincent's Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, as well as Austrian and American researchers. The research is published in this week's edition of the journal Genes & Development.

AML is the most common type of acute leukaemia (rapidly-developing cancers of immature blood cells) in Australia. Some forms of AML occur in children, while other forms are more prevalent in adults over the age of 60. Patients are normally treated with chemotherapy, but even for the least severe forms of AML, the disease returns after chemotherapy in around one-third of cases. Of patients with the most severe forms of AML, fewer than one in six will survive for five years after diagnosis.

The research team determined that treatments that remove the protein Mcl-1 from AML cells can rapidly kill these aggressive cancer cells. Mcl-1 is a so-called 'pro-survival' protein, because it can make cells long-lived. Mcl-1 is part of the 'Bcl-2 family' of pro-survival proteins, many of which are known to be important controllers of cancer development and can render cancer cells resistant to anti-cancer treatments.

The gene for Mcl-1 was first discovered in AML cells, but until now it had not been realised that the Mcl-1 protein was critical for AML cells to live, Dr Glaser said. "Other research has already shown that high levels of Mcl-1 are associated with resistance to chemotherapy," said Dr Glaser. "What we have shown is that without Mcl-1, AML c
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Contact: Vanessa Solomon
solomon@wehi.edu.au
61-393-452-971
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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