Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, is the most common form of leukemia found in adults in North America. Yet the disease remains poorly understood, according to authors of a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Catherine Wu, one of the study authors and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said all CLL cells look the same under the microscope. Yet patients with the cancer can have different outcomes – some live for 5 to 15 years with little or no treatment, others succumb to the disease within two years.
This unpredictability is one of the reasons Wu and her colleagues are attempting to identify mutated genes in the tumors of CLL patients. For this study they collected DNA samples from the leukemia cells of 91 patients and compared the gene sequences, or DNA order, to normal cells.
The researchers reaffirmed two mutated genes that were already known to be involved in CLL, and confirmed two genes that had been suspected to be significant. Most importantly, they say they identified five new genes that were not known to have established roles in the disease. The most interesting, Wu said, was gene SF3B1.
The significance of SF3B1 is a bit tricky. SF3B1 plays a role in mRNA splicing. mRNA, or messenger RNA, carries instructions from DNA for making proteins. Splicing occurs when the mRNA is being prepared to produce the proteins that help your body function.
Mutations of the SF3B1 gene were found in 15% of the study's patients, the second most-frequently mutated gene. These mutations were found primarily in patients with a poor cancer prognosis.
This means that if the gene could be identified, we would know which patients might not respond in the long-term to conventional chemotherapy, Wu said.
"It gives us new targets to go after in order to treat CLL," she said. "It provides us tools to help us predict more reliably how patients will fare. We may want to consider alternate therapies or think about other ways to treat it more effectively".
|Weekly consumption of oily fish rich in ... The essential omega-3 fatty acid abundant in oily fish ...|