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Researchers identify potential target to treat AML

KU Cancer Center researchers contributed to Beat AML study

August 16, 2022

Scientists have identified a gene that predicts survival outcomes for people with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of cancer of the bone marrow and blood. It is one of the most common types of leukemia diagnosed in adults. Among adults over the age of 60, only about one in four people with AML will survive five years after diagnosis.

Researchers analyzed the cancer cell gene expression, drug sensitivities and medical outcomes data of more than 800 people with AML from across the country. This included donated samples from patients at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. The team found that overall survival was significantly lower in patients whose cancer cells showed elevated activity of a gene called PEAR1. Subsequent analysis of other data sets, including the Cancer Genome Atlas, confirmed their findings: People with an elevated PEAR1 expression are more likely to die sooner from AML.

The study was led by Oregon Health & Science University and is part of the broader Beat AML project, sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Beat AML project includes a vast amount of AML samples, including gene mutation and clinical data. Researchers leverage that data to develop clinical trials that test treatments based on the specific genetic signature of an individual’s leukemia.

Tara Lin, MD, director of KU Cancer Center’s Acute Leukemia Program and medical director of the Clinical Trials Office, serves as site principal investigator for the Beat AML trial. According to Dr. Lin, these findings, which were published in Cancer Cell, could lead to better and more effective ways to treat AML.

“What is most exciting is that our research shows that the PEAR1 gene predicts which patients with AML may have poorer outcomes. This gene represents a novel target for drug development,” Dr. Lin said.  “Through our participation with the Beat AML project, patients at the KU Cancer Center have early access to new, targeted treatments in AML and the chance to contribute to our understanding of leukemia disease biology, generating ideas for new treatments.”

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