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Finding the genetic driver of a hard-to-classify leukemia

Memphis, Tennessee, June 22, 2021

Head shots of two researchers smiling at camera.

Co-corresponding authors Charles Mullighan, MBBS, MD, and Jeffery Klco, MD, PhD, both of St. Jude Pathology, participated in a study to better understand drivers of ambiguous cases of leukemia.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL) start in different types of blood cells. The diseases need distinct treatments.

In about 4% of cases it is hard to tell AML from ALL. That makes diagnosis and treatment challenging.

Scientists at St. Jude and the Munich Leukemia Laboratory took a “big data” approach to understand the drivers of these ambiguous cases of leukemia. They gathered 2,573 acute leukemia samples from three continents. They looked for unknown DNA alterations that cause the disease.

The scientists found a new subtype of leukemia. It is driven by rearrangements that deregulate a gene called BCL11B.

About 30% of hard-to-classify leukemia cases are this subtype.

“Identifying the biologic basis of this group is a key first step to understanding disease development,” said Charles Mullighan, MBBS, MD, St. Jude Pathology.

Cancer Discovery published a report on this work.

Read the News Release

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