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Stopping a killer with interferon?

Stopping a killer with interferon?

By name alone, chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) might not sound as serious as acute leukemia. But CML moves quickly from chronic to fatal, generally killing its victims within three-and-a-half years after diagnosis, regardless of chemotherapy. In an effort to halt that progression, researchers at the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston have treated patients with a genetically engineered form of interferon. While it is too early to tell if the treatment reverses the disease, it did normalize in the April 24 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.

The researchers, led by Moshe Talpaz and Jordan Gutterman, treated 17 patients. In the 13 responders, who have been on the therapy for up to 15 months, blood cell counts returned to normal. Side effects were relatively minor. "We just don't know the impact on survival yet," says Gutterman. "But that you can use a natural substance to get the blood counts and [genetics] normal is exciting."

More than 90 percent of CML cases are marked by a jump of genetic material from one chromosome to another; in six of the 13 responders, cells with the abnormality disappeared (though in one of these patients it returned after the paper had gone to press).

"That's very impressive," comments Ken Foon, a cancer researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "Whether that will translate into a cure or prolonged survival I don't know, but we can't do that with [conventional] drugs." Ezre Raze, head of the CML program at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., says it is not known yet if the genetic abnormality is a cause of CML. "If it is," she says, "then getting rid of it should eradicate the disease." But if the change is a result rather than a cause, normalizing it won't help. "I think only time will tell," she says.
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Title Annotation:chronic myelogenous leukemia
Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 26, 1986
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