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New Markers Found for Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is a disorder caused by the proliferation and differentiation of hematopoietic stem cells that leads to an anomalous growth of immature myeloid "precursors" (blasts) in the bone marrow and in other organs and tissues such as the spleen, liver and central nervous system.

This type of leukemia accounts for approximately 1.3% of all adult cancer cases. Every year 4.2 new cases are diagnosed per 100,000 people, with a peak for individuals ages 60-65. If not treated, AML is fatal. Therapy, which is rather aggressive, is designed to induce terminate and/or differentiate the blasts. The prognosis remains unclear, with a global survival rate, after 5 years, of about 27%.

Given the limited availability of new drugs, it is important to study the molecular mechanisms behind this disease to identify innovative diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

A research group at Sapienza University, coordinated by Professor Rosa Sorrentino, in collaboration with the University of Bari, the Rome Bambino Gesù Paediatric and Policlinico Gemelli Hospitals, has identified new molecular markers that characterize acute myeloid leukaemia. 

The research focused on the activity of two enzymes - ADAR1 and ADAR2 - that act on RNA molecules and modify their reading, thereby varying the gene expression both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Researchers have shown that during differentiation of in vitro leukemic blasts, the two deaminases are expressed at different times: ADAR1 mainly in leukemic blasts, where it appears to play an essential role in their proliferation, while ADAR2 is eliminated during the proliferative phase and expressed in differentiated leukemic cells.

These two proteins therefore characterize different phases of leukemic differentiation and could be used to monitor the maturation of leukemic blasts, setting the way for possible future therapeutic tools.