Leukemia includes various forms of blood cancer and is the most common type of cancer in children. In acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the second most common form of the disease in children, early precursors of the blood cells degenerate. Despite intensive chemotherapy, only half of all patients survive without a relapse and around a third of children are dependent on a stem cell donation after treatment. As chemotherapy has severe side effects, scientists are constantly researching new treatment options. A research team led by Professor Dr. Jan-Henning Klusmann, Director of the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Frankfurt University Hospital and scientist at the LOEWE Centre Frankfurt Cancer Institute (FCI) and Professor Dr. Dirk Heckl from the Institute of Experimental Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Goethe University Frankfurt, has now identified a site in the DNA of cancer cells that is essential for cell survival. The gene locus therefore represents a promising target for future therapeutic alternatives.
For their recently published study, they looked at a specific group of nucleic acids in the blood cancer cells: They took a closer look at the role of so-called non-coded RNAs, cell components that often take on regulatory functions such as cell division and cell growth. To do this, they compiled a kind of inventory of these molecules from sick children and compared them with healthy blood stem cells. The result: almost 500 more non-coded RNAs were produced in the AML cells than in the healthy cells. This is an important indication that the molecules play an important role in cell formation. By switching off individual molecules, the scientists were able to identify the gene called MYNRL15, which is responsible for the unlimited proliferation of diseased cells. Deactivating the gene resulted in the genetic material of the cell changing in such a way that AML cells cannot survive without it. The effect was demonstrated in various AML cell lines. This finding opens up unimagined new possibilities for successfully combating blood cancer.