Experts at the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at Cambridge University have identified a broken genetic "switch" that can trigger leukaemia, and believe that this breakthrough may lead to new treatments.
According to background information in a report on this discovery, Leukaemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and the immune system's white blood cells, which do not develop properly and begin to divide uncontrollably.
AdvertisementThe report says that the disease leaves the body less able to fight off infections in the same fashion as the HIV-Aids virus does.
The disease is also known to disrupt the manufacture of red blood cells, causing anaemia.
The Cambridge University team say that new studies have shown that a gene called JAK2 acts as a master switch to turn different genes on or off, and cancer can develop if it breaks.
Earlier, JAK2 was only thought to function on the inner surface of cells.
However, the university experts have now found that say it also acts at the heart of the cell, in the nucleus.
There, according to the researchers, an enzyme made by JAK2 controls the activity of other genes by altering proteins, called histones that protect DNA - of which cells are made.
"In this exciting research we have revealed new unidentified parts of the cell's messaging system which can become faulty and lead to leukaemia," the Daily Express quoted Professor Tony Kouzarides, director of the Gurdon Institute, as saying.
The findings of the study have been reported in the online edition of the journal Nature.