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'Good' And 'Evil' Clones Of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia cells

According to Australian scientists, there are two types of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) cells, good and bad. //The latter type of cells are those that have a pre-existing immunity to drugs used to treat ALL, that is responsible for relapse after treatment.

The discovery means that now researchers may be able to design therapies that will specifically target these resistant subclones so that, in the future, patients who have been identified as having them can be treated immediately with the alternative therapies.

ALL is the most common cancer in children and, although nearly all patients will respond initially to chemotherapy, one in four will relapse. Seoyeon Choi told the EORTC-NCI-AACR [1] Symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Prague today (Thursday 9 November): 'We have previously shown that these relapses were due to small numbers of surviving and highly drug refractory cells. However, until now, it has been unclear whether these relapses resulted from the acquisition of therapy-induced drug resistance or were caused by a subpopulation of cells that were already intrinsically drug resistant.'

Ms Choi, a final year PhD student at the Children's Cancer Institute Australia in Sydney and medical student at the University of Sydney, Australia, analysed samples taken from 25 ALL patients at the time of their diagnosis and at their relapse to discover the molecular 'fingerprint' of every ALL cell.

'White blood cells, or lymphocytes, are unique in that every one has its own molecular signature. Therefore, we can 'molecular fingerprint' each lymphocyte in order to know what the leukaemia 'looks' like. We found 'fingerprints', or clonal markers, that revealed the emergence or evolution of new clonal populations at the time of relapse in 13 patients. In eight of the samples, highly sensitive clone-specific PCR [polymerase chain reaction] revealed that these 'relapse' clones had been present in small numbers
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