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CLL study

Study identifies genetic tendency in leukaemia cells

Published on: 23 February 2021

Scientists have identified a way of predicting early whether patients will develop a common type of leukaemia, based on their genetics.

Newcastle University co-led the study, published in Nature Communications, that focused on the most common type of blood cancer: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL).

By examining blood samples of patients with CLL, experts discovered that there was a genetic tendency to develop progressive forms of the illness in some patients.

The study presents the opportunity in future to warn prospective patients that they also possess the genetic make-up that could lead to developing progressive CLL and design a personalised treatment process for them long before the illness takes effect.

NHS hospital with female patient in bed

Improve survival

Professor James Allan, from Newcastle University Centre for Cancer, said: “Emerging evidence suggests that early treatment for patients at high-risk of developing progressive CLL could significantly delay the onset of symptomatic Leukaemia and improve survival.

“The results from this collaborative study will help patients and their doctors make important decisions about when to start treatment.”

CLL varies in its severity amongst patients; while some develop symptoms such as weight loss and lumps in the neck and armpits, others exhibit no symptoms at all, despite the leukaemia cells being present within their blood.

Dr David Allsup, Senior Lecturer at Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, said:  “The study has demonstrated that CLL patients often possess the same genetic tendencies, and as such we can analyse the non-cancerous cells of prospective patients to predict the likelihood of future diagnosis.

“The study also allows us to move towards a more personalised diagnosis of leukaemia and adapt our approach for patients based on the likelihood of them developing aggressive symptoms.”

Not a cure

While this discovery does not constitute a cure for the disease, it goes a long way in identifying it in patients early, and thereby increasing their chances of survival.

Professor Una Macleod, Dean of Hull York Medical School, said: “This research is an example of our commitment to making a difference and builds on our strong heritage of cancer research. I would like to congratulate Dr Allsup and Professor Allan for their work.”

The study was a collaborative effort between nine UK institutions, including Newcastle University, Hull York Medical School, Cardiff University, Leeds University, Leicester University, Liverpool University, Oxford University, Southampton University, and the Institute for Cancer Research in London.


Genome-wide association study identifies risk loci for progressive chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Wei-Yu Lin et al. Nature Communications.


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