Australian researchers help uncover genetic cause of childhood leukaemia
September 25, 2013
Australian researchers at Children's Cancer Institute and Sydney Children's Hospital are part of an international research collaboration that has discovered a genetic link specific to the risk of childhood leukaemia.
The paper has been published in Nature Genetics and is the first study to find an inheritable gene that can cause acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common childhood cancer.
Undertaken by a worldwide team of researchers and supported in Australia by the Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, the study observes families in which multiple cases of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia have been diagnosed.
Dr David Ziegler, Clinical Research Fellow at Children’s Cancer Institute, paediatric oncologist at Sydney Children’s Hospital and lead Australian author of the paper, says the discovery has identified an important genetic cause of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and will ultimately help find better ways to treat it.
“Leukaemia cells often contain many different genetic mutations, making it difficult to detect which ones actually cause the leukaemia,” says Dr Ziegler.
“We approached this study differently by looking for mutations carried by individuals who came from rare families in which there were multiple cases of childhood leukaemia. The genetic mutation that was discovered is a critical driving factor and can be used as a fresh goal for the development of new therapies.
“This discovery unveils the possibility of a genetic test for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, similar to that conducted for breast cancer, which could allow affected families to prevent childhood leukaemia in future generations,” continues Dr Ziegler.
Dr Ziegler hopes that ongoing research will identify other genes that cause acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and reveal how these inherited factors can be targeted, allowing for the development of improved therapies and higher cure rates.
About Children’s Cancer Institute
Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. Forty years on, our vision remains unchanged – to save the lives of all children with cancer and to eliminate their suffering. The Institute has grown to now employ more than 220 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence.
Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in our hospitals as quickly as possible. These new treatments are specifically targeting childhood cancers, so we can develop safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations that will minimise side-effects and ultimately give children with cancer the best chance of a cure with the highest possible quality of life.
We are currently leading the establishment of the Zero Childhood Cancer national child cancer personalised medicine program for children with the most aggressive cancers, in partnership with the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. This program will revolutionise the way treatment decisions are made, with the aim of improving survivorship for those children at highest risk of treatment failure from their disease.