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NYU Langone scientists find key pathway implicated in progression of childhood cancer
Date:9/13/2010

New York (September 13, 2010) - A protein crucial for the immune response appears to be a key player in the progression of a devastating form of childhood leukemia called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). Suppressing the activity of the protein kills the leukemic cells, the study shows, opening a potential avenue to new drugs that could prevent progression of the disease.

Led by Iannis Aifantis, PhD, associate professor of pathology and director of the Cancer Stem Cell Program at the NYU Cancer Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center, and colleagues at the Institute Municipal d'Investigacions Mediques in Barcelona, Spain, the new study appears in the September 14, 2010, issue of Cancer Cell. These molecular detectives discovered the protein by picking up on a bit of cross-talk, or conversation, between two unrelated genes.

"We are very excited about this discovery because small molecule drugs that block this protein are already in development," said Aifantis, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist. "We plan to continue to study these inhibitors in the laboratory with the aim of evaluating the feasibility of testing such drugs in patients.

Despite great strides in treating childhood leukemia, T-ALL, poses special challenges because of the high risk of leukemic cells invading the brain and spinal cord of children who relapse. T-ALL, a blood-borne cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, or white blood cells, strikes several hundred children and adolescents in the U.S. annually. While more than 90 percent initially go into remission through a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, up to one third of this group eventually relapse.

Previous research had strongly implicated a well-known oncogene, or cancer-causing gene, called Notch1 in the initiation and progression of T-ALL in patients. Certain kinds of mutations in this gene have been found in nearly ha
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Contact: Dorie Klissas
Dorie.Klissas@nyumc.org
212-404-3525
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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