'Genetic Switch' Normalizes Leukemia Cells

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A new “genetic switch” technology may hold the key to “reversing” a common type of childhood leukemia, according to researchers from Melbourne.


The concept behind the “genetic switch” involves a gene called Pax5. When deactivated, this gene led to cancer development in a model of B-progenitor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL).


Lead researchers Dr. Ross Dickins and Ms. Grace Liu said that Pax5—which is necessary for normal development of B cells—is commonly “lost” in childhood B-ALL. Interference with Pax5 function therefore lets developing B cells to become trapped in an immature state and turn into cancer.


However, the study conducted by Dr. Dickins and Ms. Liu shows that restoring Pax5 function, even in already cancerous cells, allows the cells to develop normally. The results in themselves are interesting, they said, but the researchers also found the fact that simply reactivating Pax5 was sufficient for normalizing cancer cells, even in the face of other genetic changes.


The researchers noted that “lost” genes are not traditionally drug targets because developing drugs that restore function is difficult. Nevertheless, they concluded that these results provide deeper insight into the mechanisms by which cancer develops, in particular how Pax5 turns developing white blood cells into cancer, can help spur advances in creating new strategies for treating leukemia.

Genetic Signatures for Cancer are Making Headlines
‘Genetic Switch’ Normalizes Leukemia Cells
Melbourne researchers have shown a type of leukemia can be successfully ‘reversed' by coaxing the cancer cells back into normal development. The discovery was made using a model of B-progenitor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL), the most common cancer affecting children. 
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