A potential therapeutic target for deadly form of childhood leukemia has been found by scientists from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and the University of Virginia. It is also called MLL.
MLL is caused by a critical gene that regulates hundreds of other genes in blood cells. The problem occurs when this regulatory gene breaks in half and another gene attaches to it, creating a fusion gene. It's this fusion gene that turns a normal cell into a proliferating cancer cell.
"This hopefully will lead to an effective therapeutic approach for patients who generally do not do well with current treatments," said second senior author Dr Nancy Zeleznik-Le, a professor in the Department of Medicine at Loyola Stritch.
A drug might help disable the protein that turns normal blood cells into cancer cells.
This fusion gene codes for a MLL fusion protein. The MLL fusion protein in turn binds to hundreds of other genes.
Consequently, these genes are permanently turned on. So instead of aging and dying like a normal cell, the cell turns cancerous, continually growing and dividing into new cancer cells.
Zeleznik-Le said researchers are likely to get ready to test potential drug compounds on laboratory animals within a year.
The study appears in journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.