A drug which may prove to be an alternative to traumatic chemotherapy for childhood leukaemia has been developed by scientists from Tel Aviv University.
"Modern medicine can cure eight out of 10 cases of childhood leukemia, so parents can still be hopeful when they hear a diagnosis," the Lancet quoted Dr Shai Izraeli of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine and Sheba Medical Centre.
"Our research gives hope and life to the 20pct who might not make it as well as those who may experience a relapse," Izraeli added.
The research team led by Izraeli has previously identified a protein called JAK 2 in Down Syndrome patients, which can also play a role in other disorders and diseases.
Based on the results, the researchers believe that a drug that is already in clinical trials for a blood disease common in adults may work for acute childhood leukemia.
If initial trials go well, they say that, it could fast track through approvals and could be available for treating children with leukemia in only a few years.
According to Izraeli, a similar mutation of the JAK2 in Down syndrome and leukemia causes Polycythemia Vera, a disease common in adults that leads to the overproduction of blood.
This discovery might provide a path to new life-saving medication.
A child with Down syndrome is 20 to 30 times more likely to develop leukemia during childhood than a child without it).
Izraeli had first discovered JAK2 mutations in children who initially suffered from Down syndrome and subsequently developed leukaemia. He later screened gene mutations that could result in increased proliferation of cells.
"This is perhaps the first example of two very similar - but different - mutations that apparently do the same thing in a cellular protein. But they're associated with two completely different disorders, one that causes polycythemia in adults and the other that causes leukemia in children," said Izraeli.
"Those children at the highest risk for leukemia may be treated with inhibitors of JAK2.
"And because of the existence of polycythemia in adults, there are already drugs to fight polycythemia entering into trials as we speak.
We will know in just a few years what these drugs are capable of," he added.