An international research team coordinated at the IRCM (Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal) has found a possible alternative treatment for lymphoid leukemia. Led by Dr. Tarik Möröy, the IRCM’s President and Scientific Director, the team discovered a molecule that represents the disease’s “Achilles’ heel” and could be targeted to develop a new approach that would reduce the adverse effects of current treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The study’s results were published online on February 11, 2013 in Cancer Cell. The researchers’ results have direct implications for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the four most common types of leukemia. ALL is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood that progresses rapidly without treatment. Current treatments consist of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are both highly toxic and non-specific, meaning that they damage healthy cells as well as tumor tissues. “Even when effective, patients can suffer dramatic side effects from these treatments,” says Dr. Möröy, who is also Director of the Hematopoiesis and Cancer research unit at the IRCM and corresponding author of the study. “Therefore, they would directly benefit from an improved therapy that could reduce the necessary dose of radiation or chemotherapy, and thus their side effects, while maintaining the treatments’ efficacy. Therapies that target specific molecules have shown great promise. This is why, for the past 20 years, I have been studying a molecule called Gfi1, which plays an important role in the development of blood cells and cancer.” When normal cells are transformed into tumor cells, the body responds by activating a tumor suppressor protein that induces cell death.
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