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Archive - Mar 3, 2016


Achilles Heel of Aggressive Form of Leukemia

Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa have found the Achilles' heel of one of the most aggressive forms of leukemia that affects both children and adults. They have also identified a possible new treatment that exploits this fatal weakness. Their study, published in Genes & Development on March 1, 2016, focuses on a type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that involves a gene called TAL-1. The article is titled “UTX Inhibition As Selective Epigenetic Therapy Against TAL1-Driven T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” Senior author Dr. Marjorie Brand and her team discovered that a compound called GSK-J4 can kill this form of cancer. By transplanting cancer cells from human patients into normal mice, the authors showed that the compound can kill the leukemia quickly, efficiently, and with no short-term side effects. GSK-J4 was created by the pharmaceutical industry for research purposes, and has never been used as a cancer therapy. "It's very exciting because this is the first time anyone has found a potential personalized treatment for this aggressive disease," said Dr. Brand, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. "Unlike current therapies, ours targets the offending gene without harming the rest of the body." Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of cancer in children. It develops in the white blood cells that usually help the body fight infection. The type of cancer Dr. Brand studies is called T-ALL, because it affects a particular kind of white blood cells called T-cells. T-ALL represents 15 percent of childhood ALL cases. This study in particular dealt with a common form of T-ALL called TAL-1.

Gene for Graying Hair Identified

The first gene identified for graying hair has been discovered by an international University College London (UCL)-led study, confirming that graying hair has a genetic component and is not just environmental. Published omn March xx, 2016 in Nature Communications, the study analyzed a population of over 6,000 people with varied ancestry across Latin America to identify new genes associated with hair color, graying, density, and shape, i.e. straight or curly. The article is titled “A Genome-Wide Association Scan in Admixed Latin Americans Identifies Loci Influencing Facial and Scalp Hair Features.” "We already know several genes involved in balding and hair color, but this is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density," said lead author, Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari, UCL Cell & Developmental Biology. "It was only possible because we analyzed a diverse melting pot of people, which hasn't been done before on this scale. These findings have potential forensic and cosmetic applications as we increase our knowledge on how genes influence the way we look." The findings could help develop forensic DNA technologies that build visual profiles based on an individual's genetic makeup. Research in this field has previously used samples from people of European descent, but these new results could help forensic reconstructions in Latin America and East Asia. The gene identified for gray hair -- IRF4 -- is known to play a role in hair color but this is the first time it has been associated with the graying of hair. This gene is involved in regulating production and storage of melanin, the pigment that determines hair, skin and eye color.

Cancer Treatment on a Cellular Level

The most common treatments for cancer are radiation and chemotherapy. However these treatments have side effects and also damage healthy tissues. Moreover, their effectiveness is limited when the cancer has spread throughout the body. Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen are therefore working to develop a gentler treatment that “tricks” the cancer cells, which would absorb a cytotoxin and therefore be destroyed, while healthy cells would remain unaffected. The results were published on March 2, 2016 in the scientific journal, Scientific Reports. The open-access article is titled “Restricted Mobility of Specific Functional Groups Reduces Anti-Cancer Drug Activity in Healthy Cells.” Physicist Murillo Martins, Ph.D., at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen had an idea. He wanted to construct a kind of nanoscale “lorry” that could transport the cytotoxin directly to the cancer cells via the bloodstream and would prompt the cells to let the “load” in so that the cancer cells were destroyed. It is something you could imagine in a science fiction film, but could it be `done in the real world? The first task was the “vehicle” itself. For that he decided to use tiny magnetic beads, an approach well known in medical research. You can inject the beads into the bloodstream and by placing a magnet at the site where the tumor is located you can get the beads to move there. The next step was the cytotoxic load.