Aussie researchers find genetic cause to the most common form of childhood cancer

Australian researchers have uncovered the first ever genetic marker specific to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer.

Cancer scientists at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) and Sydney Children’s Hospital, along with a worldwide team of researchers, discovered the genetic link by studying families in which multiple cases of ALL have been diagnosed.

Dr David Ziegler, Clinical Research Fellow at CCIA, paediatric oncologist at Sydney Children’s Hospital and lead Australian author of the research paper said, “Leukaemia cells often contain many different genetic mutations, making it difficult to detect which ones actually cause the leukaemia.”

Because of this challenge the research team took a different approach to this study and looked for mutations carried by individuals who came from very unique families where there were multiple cases of childhood leukaemia.

The genetic mutation that was discovered by Dr Ziegler and the international team is a critical driving factor which could lead to the development of exciting new therapies for ALL – bringing hope to families with children suffering from this form of cancer.

“This discovery unveils the possibility of a genetic test for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, similar to that conducted for breast cancer, which could allow affected families to prevent childhood leukaemia in future generations,” said Dr Ziegler.

Researchers hope to identify other genes that cause acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in the future and reveal how these inherited factors can be targeted, allowing for the development of improved therapies and higher cure rates.

The paper has been published in the medical journal, Nature Genetics.