Gene Mutations That Cause Leukemia Identified By Scientists

Gene mutations that are likely to cause blood cancer have been identified by scientists in a groundbreaking study.

The breakthrough could save lives by helping doctors identify leukemia earlier.

Researchers at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, in Scotland, looked at the role of specific cells that produce all the other blood cells in the body.

Science lab pipette
A new study by researchers at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow has identified gene mutations that are likely to cause blood cancer. In this photo, a scientist uses a pipette to add a precise volume of liquid to a vial at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute on December 9, 2014, in Cambridge, England. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images/Cancer Research UK

The cells, called "hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells," are vital to the development of human blood.

They can carry nasty mutations that can increase a person's risk of leukemia, and if lots of these mutations develop, the risk of cancer increases even more.

Exploring the mutations in more detail meant the researchers could better identify gene changes that were likely to go on to cause diseases such as leukemia.

As human beings age, the blood system can become damaged and chances of developing blood cancer go up significantly.

Investigating the effects of aging on the blood can often take years of study before yielding results.

By knowing that people have these mutations, they can be more closely monitored to diagnose and treat diseases such as leukemia earlier.

For the study, researchers teamed up with Cancer Research UK, the world's largest independent cancer research organization.

The experts looked at changes to the blood cells of people in Scotland who were taking part in an existing study, which collects data as people age, over a 12-year period. All of the 85 participants were over 70 years of age.

One person in the U.S. is diagnosed with leukemia approximately every three minutes, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

In the U.K., where the study took place, more than one person every hour, or 28 people every day, are diagnosed with leukemia, and more than 40 percent of new leukemia cases there occur in people aged 75 and over.

Study lead author Kristina Kirschner, of the University of Glasgow, said: "This method will help pave the way towards early detection of transformation to leukemia in the elderly population, reducing treatment costs to the NHS and improving outcomes for patients."

Dawn Farrar, director of impact at Leukemia UK, said: "These are exciting new findings."

She added: "The ability to detect leukemia at the earliest opportunity in the elderly may provide options for less harsh but effective treatments.

"Identifying a future risk of development of leukemia may ultimately offer the possibility of prevention and therefore save more lives."

The study was published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.

Produced in association with SWNS.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.