Reporter 425, 19 October 1998

Petrol risks weighed up in leukaemia research

A three year project, which is the largest of its kind in the world and aims to study the way potential blood-borne toxins are broken down in the liver has won £120,000 from the Leukaemia Research Fund.

The team, led by Dr Gareth Morgan of the Research School of Medicine, will study 1000 cases of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and compare the efficiency of this toxin break-down compared to people without the disease. They hope this will help to identify people who may be susceptible to the disease.

The research will focus on environmental hazards such as petrol-borne benzene, combustion products and certain chemotherapy drugs, which are all thought to trigger AML. The project’s results could be especially useful in helping to determine people at risk of leukaemia in the workplace, such as those exposed to solvents.

A second Leukaemia Research Fund grant, worth £101,000, has been awarded to Dr Constanze Bonifer at the Molecular Medicine Unit, St James’s University Hospital.

This study will investigate the changes that occur in the packaging of DNA when genes are activated. When this happens, the packaging of the DNA changes from a very tight to a more loose structure. Without careful control of this structural change the gene cannot function properly. The project will offer clues about this process and the factors that influence it.

Dr Bonifer believes the research could have important implications for improving new lines of treatment, such as gene therapy.

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