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Leukaemia & other blood cancers

young-child-with-leukaemia.jpgLeukaemia is a group of cancers which affect the white blood cells. In healthy bodies, white blood cells fight infection, but in leukaemia the cells multiply in the bone marrow in an uncontrolled way. Research using mice has been central to successful treatments for blood cancers.

Leukaemia is the most common cancer affecting children, accounting for around a third of childhood cancers. As recently as 25 years ago, a diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukaemia meant a 7 in 10 chance of dying within five years. Now, thanks to advances in treatments, children diagnosed with this form of cancer have an eight out of ten chance of survival.

An important step in finding effective treatments for any condition is understanding how it develops, and animal research has been, and continues to be, a crucial way of gaining that knowledge.

In the early 1970s, research using mice found that it is vital to destroy all malignant cells in order to get rid of the cancer - and that the earlier treatment can begin, the better the chances of survival. This principle has been a guiding factor in treating all types of cancer.

Our improved understanding of genetics is helping create opportunities for treatment of many cancers, including leukaemia. Research on the role of cancer-causing genes (oncogenes) in leukaemia is currently taking place using genetically modified (GM) mice. This type of research could open the door for gene therapies to tackle leukaemia.

Of the treatments currently available for leukaemia, the mainstay of these being chemotherapy, animals played an important role in their  development. Animal research also helped develop new approaches to treat leukaemia such as the imatinib (Glivec), which has increased life expectancy for patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia.

For some with leukaemia, their best hope is to receive a bone marrow transplant. As with any form of transplant, there are potential problems with rejection. Researchers are working on ways of making bone marrow transplants safer and more effective by introducing a human immune system into mice and looking at how it responds to grafted cells.

While survival rates for childhood leukaemia have greatly improved, rates for adults with leukaemia are sadly not as good. Research continues to understand the disease better and to create more and better treatments.

Bone marrow transplants are used to treat leukaemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and cancers of the blood. Similarly, newer stem cell treatments and monoclonal antibodies such asRituxanfor lymphoma have been made possible by research using mice.

For more information, go to the AnimalResearch.info page on leukaemia

IMAGE©ISTOCKPHOTO/MYRRHA

Last edited: 18 November 2014 17:23