AML, or acute myelogenous leukemia, is a type of blood cancer. Until now, the origins of this type of cancer have been unknown. However, for many people diagnosed with the disease, it would appear that the cancer could originate from a mutation in the patient’s bone cells.
In a new study published on 21st January 2014, researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center show a clear link between a mutation of bone cells and AML. The researchers identified a particular gene mutation in osteoblasts (the cells that build bone). They found that a mutation of this gene, known as beta-catenin, causes AML in mice.
AML is the most common form of leukemia in adults, affecting 12-15,000 Americans every year. Whilst it is most common in adults, around 10% of AML diagnoses are in children. The three year survival rate for those diagnosed with AML is 25%.
In people with AML, immature white blood cells (blasts) reproduce at an uncontrollable rate, producing other abnormal blasts that don’t mature into white blood cells but don’t die either. As a result, first the bone marrow, then the blood, is flooded with useless cells, that don’t perform any function but which crowd out healthy cells, like platelets, good white blood cells and red blood cells. This leads to a range of symptoms including infections, due to reduced white blood cell count, excessive bleeding, due to the loss of platelets, anemia, as a result of the low red blood count and, ultimately, organ failure.
MDS is a term used for a collection of blood disorders that s diagnosed in about 10,000 Americans each year. Many people with MDS go on to develop AML.
About The Study
The researchers involved in the study looked at a strain of mice that tends to die at a young age due to abnormalities in their blood, which resulted in a disease the same as AML in humans. It was discovered that, in the mice, the disease was caused by a beta-catenin mutation in the osteoblasts. This mutation triggers a complex series of events that results in cancer developing in the nearby bone marrow stem cells.
When the scientists looked for evidence of this sequence of events in humans, it was detected in 38% of patients with AML or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).
It has long been thought that osteoblasts may be able to communicate somehow with leukemia blasts; this study shows how that may happen. By understanding the series of events that trigger the reactions and mutations that ultimately cause blood cancers like leukemia, we take one step closer to treating and even preventing the disease.
By blocking the mutation of osteoblasts in the mice, scientists were able to prevent leukemic bloods cells from being produced. It is, therefore, possible that a similar method could be used to benefit the 40% of AML and MDS patients whose disease is thought to be caused by an osteoblast mutation.
While we continue to develop our understanding of chronic diseases, how to prevent them and how to treat them, treatment methods are becoming more and more successful. Currently, chemotherapy is one of the best options for patients with leukemia such as AML, CML, or ALL. Bone marrow transplantation offers the greatest chance of long term survival to patients with leukemia or MDS as well as a range of acquired and inherited conditions.
For more information about the Bone Marrow Unit at Bone Marrow Transplant Mexico, contact us.