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Genetic switch link to leukaemia

Scientists at Cambridge University's Gurdon Institute have found a gene that can trigger leukaemia by switching other genes 'on' or 'off'

Scientists at Cambridge University's Gurdon Institute have found a gene that can trigger leukaemia by switching other genes 'on' or 'off'.

Previously JAK2 (Janus kinase and signal transducer and activator of transcription) was only thought to function on the inner surface of cells. However, this research has shown that it appears that the gene makes an enzyme which controls the activity of other genes by altering proteins called histones that pack and protect DNA. When JAK2 causes a fault in genetic messaging, the impact can trigger cancer.

"These findings give scientists new opportunities to develop drugs to block leukaemia:" said Prof Sir David Lane of Cancer Research UK.

In October 2008, the Lancet reported that mutations of JAK2 were linked to acute lymphoblastic leukaemias associated with Down's syndrome. Dani Bercovich at the Human Molecular Genetics and Pharmacogenetics Laboratory, Migal-Galilee Biotechnology Centre, Israel and colleagues added mutations of JAK2 to the growing list of genetic alterations implicated in the pathogenesis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

New drug therapies may enable women of childbearing age to avoid the risks of infertility associated with chemotherapy. Leukaemia affects more than 7,000 people in the UK each year and causes 4,350 deaths.

28th September 2009

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