New York: Scientists have identified a protein that plays a crucial role in the progression of a devastating form of childhood cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL), a finding that could lead to
new drugs for treating the disease.
Scientists at the New York University Langone Medical
Centre found that the protein called NF-kB (short for nuclear
factor kB), which is crucial for the immune response, appears
to be a key player in the progression of T-ALL -- the most
common type of cancer in children.
The researchers, who detailed their study in the journal
Cancer Cell, also found that when the activities of the
protein were suppressed it killed the leukemic cells, opening
a potential avenue to new drugs that could prevent progression
of the disease.
"We are very excited about this discovery because small
molecule drugs that block this protein are already in
development," said lead researcher Iannis Aifantis, director
of the Cancer Stem Cell Program at the NYU Cancer Institute.
"We plan to continue to study these inhibitors in the
laboratory with the aim of evaluating the feasibility of
testing such drugs in patients."
Despite great strides in treating childhood leukemia,
T-ALL poses special challenges because of the high risk of
leukemic cells invading the brain and spinal cord of children
T-ALL is a blood-borne cancer in which the bone marrow
makes too many lymphocytes, or white blood cells, which
strikes several thousand children and adolescents in the world
While more than 90 per cent initially go into remission
through a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, up to one
third of this group eventually relapse.
Previous research had strongly implicated a well-known
oncogene (or cancer-causing gene) called Notch1 in the
initiation and progression of T-ALL in patients.
Certain kinds of mutations in this gene have been found
in nearly half of T-ALL patients and current estimates suggest
that the gene`s regulatory influence might be implicated in
nearly 90 per cent of cases.
In the new study, the scientists found that Notch
targeted a protein called NF-kB (or nuclear factor kB), an
important transcription factor that regulates genes involved
in cell division and the immune response. Transcription
factors bind to the DNA of genes, thereby activating them.