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Insights into Deadly Form of Leukaemia


Monday 9 July 2007


A new study has provided key insights into the complex molecular events that cause a deadly type of leukaemia and identifies promising new avenues to develop treatments for some of its variant forms.


The research, carried out by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research illuminates specific mechanisms involved in the development of acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL).


APL is a cancer of the bone marrow and most cases are caused by the expression of a cancer causing gene called the PML/RARα oncogene. This oncogene is formed by the exchange of genetic material between two chromosomes and gives rise to a protein called fusion protein. In APL, the fusion protein interferes with gene expression and prevents white blood cells behaving normally, leading them to become cancerous.


This study, published today in Cancer Cell*, has revealed at least three distinctive and essential steps by which the oncogenic RARα fusion complex assembles in APL. As formation of such complexes is crucial for the regulation of genes involved in human cancer, these findings also reveal that these complexes have the potential to be targets for molecular therapy.


Lead researcher, Dr Eric So of The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "These findings not only identify the key elements and potential avenues for therapeutic targeting of this type of leukaemia but also shed light on the detailed mechanisms associated with the mis-regulation of genes in leukaemia."


"Following these results, we will be able to work with colleagues in the Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics at The Institute to explore the possibility of developing new therapies to target this weakest link in cancers."


The work was funded by the Association for International Cancer Research, Cancer Research UK and Leukaemia Research .


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 * Cancer Cell, vol 11, issue 7


Read more about Dr So’s work in The Institute’s Annual Research Report 2006. His article Oncogenic transcription factors in normal and cancer stem cells discusses the roles of various oncogenic transcription factors in both normal and cancer stem cells.


For further information please contact:

Sushila Snell

The Institute of Cancer Research

0207 153 5380

[email protected]


Notes to editors:

About The Institute of Cancer Research

  • The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. It was founded in 1909 to carry out research into the causes of cancer and to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. Website at:
  • The Institute works in a unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, forming the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe. This relationship enables close daily contact with those on the frontline in the fight against cancer - the clinicians, the carers and most importantly, the patients.

About the Association for International Cancer Research

  • AICR (Association for International Cancer Research) is a totally independent charity based in St Andrews in Scotland. It has no commercial ties, no links with any particular research institutions and no commitment to follow any particular line of research. It funds what it considers to be the best researchers and the most valuable studies, wherever they are in the world. This innovative approach to funding research has enabled AICR to contribute significantly to furthering man's understanding of cancer.
  • Head office Madras House, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9EH, telephone +44 (0) 1334- 477910. e-mail: [email protected]

About Cancer Research UK

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer
  • For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820 or visit

About Leukaemia Research

  • Over the next five years, Leukaemia Research urgently needs to raise over £100 million to commit to new research across the UK. From basic laboratory research to clinical trials with patients, Leukaemia Research is committed to saving lives by funding high quality, carefully selected research throughout the UK.
  • Leukaemia Research is the only national charity devoted exclusively to improving treatments, finding cures and learning how to prevent leukaemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and other lymphomas, myeloma and the other related blood disorders, diagnosed in 24,500 people in the UK every year. Further information, including patient information booklets, is available from or call 020 7405 0101.
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