In a new study in Cell, Richard Wilson and his colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis write that it only takes a small number of driver mutations for a person to develop acute myeloid leukemia, reports Fierce Biotech Research's Mark Hollmer. In fact, the researchers add, many of the mutations found in leukemia cells have nothing to do with the cancer itself. The team sequenced the genomes of 24 AML patients and compared the mutations in their cancer cells to those in a healthy person's stem cells. "It turns out that the total number of cell mutations varied due to age, and that leukemia was not a factor," Hollmer says. "For example, a healthy middle-aged person had the same blood stem cell mutations found in the cancer cells of a similarly aged leukemia patient." The sequencing also helped the researchers find the 13 mutations they say drive the cancer's development as well as other mutations that work with the drivers to enhance their activity.
"The finding is a simple one that will matter to researchers on the quest for targeted therapies," Hollmer adds. "If only a few cell mutations push a normal cell into becoming AML, then scientists can devote more energy to identifying a drug that addresses that specific mutation rather than aiming more broadly."