In Study of Noncoding RNAs, Scientists Discover New Achilles Heel of Leukemia Cells

The term “leukemia” encompasses various forms of blood cancer, including acute myeloid leukemia (AML). In AML, blood cells in the early stages – the stem cells and the precursor cells that develop out of them – degenerate. AML is the second most common leukemia in children, accounting for approximately four percent of all malignant diseases in childhood and adolescence. Despite intensive chemotherapy, only around half of those affected survive without relapsing. About one third of children are dependent on a stem cell donation. Since non-specific chemotherapies have severe side effects, there is an urgent need to find new and specific therapy approaches. A team led by Jan-Henning Klusmann from the Department of Pediatrics and Dirk Heckl from the Institute for Experimental Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Goethe University Frankfurt has now discovered an unusual “Achilles heel” in AML cells. For their study, which was published on September 6, 2023 in iScience, the researchers looked at a specific group of nucleic acids in leukemia cells: noncoding RNAs. Just like regular messenger RNAs (mRNAs), these noncoding RNAs are produced through gene transcription. However, unlike mRNAs, noncoding RNAs are not translated into proteins but instead often assume regulatory functions, for example in cell growth and cell division. A typical characteristic of cancer cells is a massive disruption of regulatory processes. This makes noncoding RNAs an interesting starting point in the fight against cancer. The open-access iScience article is titled “Myeloid Leukemia Vulnerabilities Embedded in Long Noncoding RNA Locus MYNRL15.”

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