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Key genetic error found in family of blood cancers
Date:12/15/2011

Scientists have uncovered a critical genetic mutation in some patients with myelodysplastic syndromes a group of blood cancers that can progress to a fatal form of leukemia.

The research team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis also found evidence that patients with the mutation are more likely to develop acute leukemia. While this finding needs to be confirmed in additional patients, the study raises the prospect that a genetic test could one day more accurately diagnose the disorder and predict the course of the disease.

The research is available online in Nature Genetics.

The scientists discovered the mutation in a gene known as U2AF1 when they sequenced the entire genome of a 65-year old man with myelodysplastic syndrome that had progressed to leukemia and compared it with the genome of his tumor cells. They also found the genetic error in other patients with myelodysplastic syndromes, an indication of the mutation's significance.

"The mutation in this gene was not on anyone's radar screen," says senior author and hematologist/oncologist Matthew Walter, MD, assistant professor of medicine. "In many cases, the diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndromes is unclear because there isn't a straightforward diagnostic test. By understanding at the genetic level what is contributing to this disease, we hope to eventually improve the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder."

Myelodysplastic syndromes are a difficult-to-treat family of blood cancers that occur when blood cells in the bone marrow don't mature properly. About 28,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disorder each year, most of them over age 60. Drugs are available to treat the disease, but none can cure it.

In about 30 percent of cases, the disorder progresses to a form of acute myeloid leukemia that usually is fatal because chemotherapy drugs are not effective in these patients. Doctors currently assess the likelihood that
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Contact: Caroline Arbanas
arbanasc@wustl.edu
314-286-0109
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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