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Could antibody errors be causing some types of leukaemia?

Could antibody errors be causing some types of leukaemia?

Little Princess Trust Research Project of the Month

Your immune system is one of the most important parts of your body.

It protects you from germs and makes sure that all the cells in your body are healthy and behaving correctly. It’s an enormous and complicated system that scientists are still discovering more about.

The immune system uses antibodies to recognise and fight invaders to your body and errors in your cells. Antibodies work a little bit like a lock and key mechanism – each antibody recognises a specific shape which is unique to an invader, such as the flu virus.

This means that the immune system has to create a huge amount of these different antibodies to make sure that it can recognise all the problems your body might be facing.

The Little Princess Trust funds research searching for kinder and more effective treatments for childhood cancers.

Rather than have a different gene for every one of these millions of different antibodies, immune system cells produce antibodies by cutting and pasting together lots of DNA pieces from different genes.

Recently, Dr Joan Boyes’ team at the University of Leeds discovered a completely new way that this process could be contributing to some types of leukaemia. Sometimes, tiny pieces of the leftover DNA from the cutting and pasting process aren’t properly removed from the cell.

These pieces of DNA can join up with a protein, which then floats around the cell cutting DNA incorrectly and moving on to cut in another place.  This broken DNA can cause lots of issues for cells, and they might not be able to work properly.

The research team are investigating this ‘cut-and-run’ process to see if it could be contributing to other leukaemias or causing relapses.

Dr Joan Boyes has received funding from The Little Princess Trust to study antibody production.

So far, Joan’s team has found evidence to suggest that these incorrectly cut DNA strands play a part in the development and relapse of PAX5-altered acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. They have also found that when there is more broken DNA, it is likely to mean there is a higher risk of the cancer coming back after treatment.

If the team’s final data show that cut-and-run reactions play a role in childhood leukaemia, Joan hopes that the project could lead to research into kinder and safer treatments for children with leukaemia.

You can read more about this project here.

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The MBE for voluntary groups was awarded to The Little Princess Trust by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.