A new study has identified cells that are at the root of a particular form of childhood leukaemia, paving the way for new treatments for the disease.
Researchers from the charity Leukaemia Research and the Medical Research Council (MRC) made the discovery while studying two four-year-old twins, one of whom had developed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
They found abnormal cells in the blood of both twins. In the case of one twin, Olivia, the cells had developed into full-blown leukaemia stem cells. However, in the healthy twin, Isabella, the cells were lying dormant in the bone marrow.
The findings are published in the journal Science and could lead to less aggressive forms of cancer treatment for leukaemia patients.
Professor Mel Greaves, study co-author and a researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research, said: "This study of a twin pair…has identified the critical stem cells that initiate the disease and maintain it in a covert state for several years.
"These are the cells that dictate disease course and provide the bull's eye to target with new therapies."