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A deadly white blood cell cancer is being fuelled by a sugar-regulating enzyme used to prevent other kinds of tumours, it has been found.
Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) is one of a number of biological catalysts that help control sugar levels in the muscles and liver.
It was previously found to halt uncontrolled cell growth, but data from the US show that it actually promotes a deadly form of leukaemia.
MLL or “mixed lineage” leukaemia is a particularly dangerous form of the disease that accounts for between 5% and 10% of child and adult conditions. Laboratory tests and experiments with mice have shown that inhibiting GSK3 combats MLL leukaemias.
Study leader Professor Michael Cleary, from the Stanford Cancer Centre in California, said: “This finding was quite unexpected. GSK3 has never been implicated in promoting cancer.”
Previous research had shown that GSK3 slows down malignancies such as colon cancer. The scientists, who report their discovery in the journal Nature, are now hunting for potent GSK3-inhibitors that can safely be given to humans.
Drugs that inhibit the enzyme may have a double whammy effect, killing cancerous blood cells and promoting the growth of healthy stem cells such as those used in marrow transplants.
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