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Southampton researchers unlock secrets of most common type of leukaemia

Published: 4 December 2009

Researchers at the University of Southampton have announced exciting progress in the understanding of how the genetic makeup of patients with leukaemia can affect how they respond to treatment.

Speaking on Monday 7 December at the prestigious American Society of Haematology’s annual meeting, Dr Jon Strefford of the University of Southampton’s School of Medicine described the results of a study of over 200 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the commonest form of leukaemia in adults. The study, which was funded by the blood cancer charity Leukaemia Research, searched samples of patients’ DNA for any abnormalities in their genetic code that may be affecting the treatment of their disease.

“We used state-of-the-art technology that literally provides a million answers to scientific questions in a single experiment,” explained Dr Strefford. “We were able to investigate the entire genetic code of a patient with CLL, which allowed us to identify tiny changes in DNA that were contributing to the disease.”

The scientists investigated defects on chromosome 13 of a patient’s DNA to see how they affected the reaction to treatment. The team’s aim was to identify the exact size and location of the defects that determine a patient’s prognosis. They found that patients with larger deletions on chromosome 13 had a much higher risk of developing an aggressive form of this leukaemia and responding poorly to standard treatment than patients who just had small defects on the chromosome.

Dr Strefford said: “CLL develops at different rates in different people, so these results are really exciting – we’ve identified the DNA defects in patients that result in particularly aggressive forms of the leukaemia. Testing for this defect when a patient is diagnosed could be used to predict how their disease will develop and we could manage their treatment accordingly.”

Leukaemia Research Scientific Director Dr David Grant said: “This research could have real benefits for patients. By identifying “clues” in the DNA which tell us how the disease will develop, it will not only help to treat patients better and improve survival times, but can also lead to the development of new, more targeted drugs for the disease in the future.”

Leukaemia Research currently has £3,700,000 invested in 14 research projects in Southampton.

 

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