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After an intensive three-year hunt through the genome, medical researchers have pinpointed mutations that lead to drug resistance and relapse in the most common type of childhood cancer - the first time anyone has linked the disease's reemergence to specific genetic anomalies.
The discovery, co-lead by William L. Carroll, MD, director of NYU Langone Medical Center's Cancer Institute, is reported in a study published online in Nature Genetics.
"There has been no progress in curing children who relapse, in spite of giving them very high doses of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants," said Dr. Carroll.
The discovery suggests how scientists may be able to thwart a dangerous form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rapidly progressing blood-borne cancer that strikes about 6,000 people in the United States every year and accounts for more than one in four pediatric cancers. Eventually, such information could help doctors detect the early emergence of chemotherapy-resistant cells in patients and switch to a different treatment strategy before the disease can fully reassert itself.
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