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Cancer scientists discover genetic diversity in leukemic propagating cells
Date:1/19/2011

(Toronto, Canada January 20, 2011) Cancer scientists led by Dr. John Dick at the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) and collaborators at St Jude Children's Research Hospital (Memphis) have found that defective genes and the individual leukemia cells that carry them are organized in a more complex way than previously thought.

The findings, published today in Nature (DOI:10.1038/nature09733), challenge the conventional scientific view that cancer progresses as a linear series of genetic events and that all the cells in a tumour share the same genetic abnormalities and the same growth properties.

"Our results show this is not the case and open the way to discover how genetic abnormalities transform normal cells into leukemic cells and the steps that have to happen to make the leukemic cells increasingly abnormal and aggressive, how leukemic cells at different steps of genetic evolution (or progression) respond to therapy, or contribute to relapse," says Dr. Dick, Senior Scientist at OCI's Campbell Family Institute for Cancer Research, the research arm of Princess Margaret Hospital, and the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine at University Health Network. Dr. Dick is also a Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, and Director of the Cancer Stem Cell Program at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

The research team found that the leukemia cells taken from patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are actually composed of multiple families of genetically distinct leukemia cells. They looked at how these families developed and retraced the ALL "family tree" back to its origins. They discovered that the so-called black sheep the cells that propagate the disease and potentially survive therapy persist through generations, and even branch off and evolve to form genetically distinct cancer families. Some of these genetic families dominate, making it appear that the leukemia cells onl
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Contact: Jane Finlayson
jane.finlayson@uhn.on.ca
416-946-2846
University Health Network
Source:Eurekalert

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