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Scientists uncover indicator that warns leukemia is progressing to more dangerous form
Date:2/17/2009

Scientists at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, Stanford University School of Medicine and other centers have identified a mechanism by which a chronic form of leukemia can progress into a deadlier stage of the disease. The findings may provide physicians with an indicator of when this type of cancer chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is progressing, enabling them to make more accurate prognoses for the disease and improved treatment choices.

"If we can predict when a patient is moving from the chronic phase in CML to the blast crisis stage, then we can hopefully intervene before it's too late," said Catriona H.M. Jamieson, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Director for Stem Cell Research at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center.

The findings, reported online during the week of February 16, 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also shed light on the development of potentially treatment-resistant leukemia stem cells and provide insights for new strategies against CML and other cancers.

Led by Jamieson and Irving Weissman, MD, director of the Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute at the Stanford University School of Medicine, the researchers discovered that when a molecular off-switch called glycogen synthase kinase (GSK) 3 beta becomes faulty in chronic stage CML cells, it fails to turn off another protein, beta-catenin. This in turn enables pre-leukemia stem cells to develop into leukemia stem cells and expand their numbers, leading to progression to the more dangerous "blast crisis" stage of CML. This errant off-switch is a potential therapeutic target, Jamieson explained.

"This paper further underscores the importance of the cell type and specific context of molecular events in the evolution of leukemia," Jamieson said. "It also highlights the malignant consequences of GSK 3 beta deregulation."


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Contact: Steve Benowitz
sbenowitz@ucsd.edu
619-543-6163
University of California - San Diego
Source:Eurekalert

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