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Sunday, 9 September, 2001, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Hunt for genetic clues to leukaemia
The scientists will look at genetic changes to chromosomes
The scientists will look at genetic changes to chromosomes
Scientists have been given a 1.7m grant to seek out the genetic abnormalities that cause childhood leukaemia.

The researchers from Southampton will be analysing large numbers of children with leukaemia to find out how the disease develops and responds to treatment.

Dr Christine Harrison, head of the Leukaemia Research Fund Cytogenetics Group, at Southampton General Hospital, is leading the study.

She said: "It is absolutely crucial that the information we find on genetic links to this cancer can be translated rapidly into health benefits for children with this cruel disease."

There are still children who should survive this disease but do not

Dr Christine Harrison, LRF Cytogenetics Group
Doctors already use genetic information about childhood leukaemia to predict how the disease will progress.

It is known, for example, that children with certain abnormalities, such as the so-called Philadelphia chromosome, are more likely to develop complications than those who do not, allowing doctors to modify treatment.

But the research team says there are still too many gaps in how doctors understand the cancer.

Between one and 450 children develop leukaemia each year, making it the most common form of childhood cancer.

Most have acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Eighty per cent of those affected survive.

Genetic changes

The five-year study, funded by the Leukaemia Research Fund (LRF), will study samples already taken from over 4,500 patients with ALL.

The research team say in the past, the technology has not been available to pick up subtle genetic changes occurring in leukaemia.

But a new technique called fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH).

A normal chromosome has its own set of genetic markers. These can be stained with the fluorescent dyes.

Digital images are then taken using a very sensitive camera, and scientists can then view the images on screen and detect any genetic abnormalities.

Scientists believe a single genetic change might be responsible for causing a child's leukaemia, and that "secondary" changes might influence how the condition progresses.

It is these secondary changes the scientists are trying to identify.

They hope it will also help identify patients who are at a high risk of relapse.

New era

Dr Harrison said: "There are still children who should survive their disease but do not.

"Equally, some children who have a very aggressive form of ALL manage to pull through.

"We need to know why this happens."

The LRF is also allocating 1.4m to scientists in Newcastle who are looking at how to best target the individual needs of children with leukaemia, and to find targets for new drugs.

Dr David Grant, scientific director of LRF, said: "Leukaemia treatment is moving into a new era where therapies will be matched to the individual requirements of each patient. This work will take us ever closer to that goal."

See also:

13 Aug 01 | Health
Fresh weapon in leukaemia battle
19 May 01 | Health
Leukaemia test 'could save lives'
16 Mar 01 | Health
Leukaemia infection clue
04 Dec 00 | Health
Double leukaemia breakthrough
15 Jan 01 | Health
Cells 'seek and destroy' cancer
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