Gene network study sheds light on leukaemia

In collaboration with the Press Association

New insights into the way that genes are controlled could help scientists understand more about the development of blood cancers such as leukaemia, a new study published in Nature Genetics suggests.

Scientists at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, working alongside an international team of researchers, investigated how genes interact with each other.

They focused on white blood cells involved in the immune system, and found that their growth and development is regulated by hundreds of interrelating genes.


It had previously been thought that cell growth was managed by a smaller group of "master" genes that switched other genes on or off.

By gaining a greater insight into this complex process and pinpointing the gene network's areas of weakness, scientists hope they will be able to shed more light on the process behind the development of leukaemia, which affects the immune system.

According to Professor David Hume, director of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, the findings could lead to better treatments for diseases involving the immune system, including myeloid leukaemia and arthritis.

"This study has effectively shown us where the brakes are that could stop or slow down diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis," he commented.

"We genuinely believe this could lead to treatments and cures for many diseases of the immune system."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This exciting research reveals just how complex the development of our immune system is. It may eventually help to explain why some people respond to immunotherapies to fight cancer and others don't."


The transcriptional network that controls growth arrest and differentiation in a human myeloid leukaemia cell line. Nature Genetics. April 2009. doi:10.1038/ng.375