03:37am Saturday 19 October 2019

Scientists identify genetic drivers of leukaemia

The breakthrough study could help doctors form a more accurate prognosis for each patient and adjust treatment accordingly.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a blood cancer which is characterised by the uncontrollable multiplication of genetically mutated white blood cells, which crowd out healthy blood cells.

The Newcastle University team, which was funded by the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, studied nine newly discovered genetic mutations in the leukaemia cells of 450 adolescents and adults diagnosed with ALL. The researchers added this new information to existing data to generate the most comprehensive genetic profile of adolescent and adult ALL compiled to date.

In a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the Newcastle University team showed that the incidence of the new mutations was higher than expected, with over two thirds of patients found to carry at least one. Moreover three of the new mutations were shown to be ‘high risk’ markers and patients carrying one of these mutations had a greater risk of relapse or death when treated with standard therapy. Over one quarter of patients harboured one or more of these high risk mutations, an incidence higher than that observed among children with ALL.

Professor Anthony Moorman, who led the team at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University, said: “This study represents a significant advance in our understanding of the clinical relevance of genetics in adult ALL. While over 80% of children with ALL are now cured, survival rates for adults are much lower.

“Identifying the precise genetic abnormalities in each patient’s cancer has proven extremely useful in helping us to guide the treatment of childhood leukaemia and understand how the disease develops. We hope that this research will contribute to helping repeat this success in adults, where better prognostic tools are desperately needed.”

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “By identifying high-risk genetic profiles in adult leukaemia patients, doctors should be able to better ensure each individual receives the right level and type of treatment for his or her disease. More research needs to be done into these three genetic mutations and how these can be ‘targeted’ by new drugs.”

Newcastle University is a Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research ‘Centre of Excellence’, and the charity has over £6 million invested in 19 projects in the area.
For further information, please contact Henry Winter at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Press Office on 020 7269 9019, press mobile 07824 375880, or email: hwinter@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk

Notes to editors

The findings are published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology under the title ‘IGH@ translocations, CRLF2 deregulation and micro-deletions in adolescents and adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)’. Corresponding author is Professor Anthony V. Moorman of the Leukaemia Research Cytogenetics Group, Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University


The study followed 454 patients (15-60 years old) treated on UKALLXII/ECOG2993 with Philadelphia-negative B-cell precursor ALL. Fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) and Multiplex Ligation-dependent Probe Amplification (MLPA) were used to detect these genetic alterations.


Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is dedicated to saving the lives of blood cancer patients through the promotion and assistance of research into causes, diagnosis and treatment. We are committed to advancing the interests of patients and increasing public understanding of blood cancers.


Around 30,000 people of all ages, from children and teenagers to adults are diagnosed with blood cancers like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma in the UK every year.


We receive no government funding and rely entirely on voluntary support. In the next five years we need to raise £120 million to continue our lifesaving work. Further information, including patient information booklets, is available from beatingbloodcancers.org.uk or on 020 7405 0101.


NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY is a leading UK higher education institution with a reputation for international excellence built on the quality of teaching, research and work with the community and industry. The University is a member of the Russell Group of 20 leading UK universities that are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector. The University is based in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, in North East England.

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