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Drug shows promise in leukemia fight, Israeli researchers say

(JTA) — An Israeli research team has uncovered evidence that suggests a drug in clinical testing may be used to treat some children suffering from childhood leukemia.

The team, working through the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, affirmed research conducted elsewhere that links the disease with a gene abnormality common among children with Down syndrome, who are 20 to 30 times more likely to contract childhood leukemia than other children. Leukemia is the most common cancer in children.

The Israeli researchers also determined that a drug targeting the abnormality in treating a different blood disorder also may treat the underlying cause of the leukemia in the children afflicted with the abnormality — about one in five. That drug is now in clinical tests.

Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia are treated now with chemotherapy, which is successful in eight out of 10 cases but may be devastating to the child’s health. 

"Our research gives hope to a substantial portion of the children who might be taken by this horrible disease," said Dr. Shai Izraeli, the Sheba physician who led the team that also featured scientists from Tel Aviv University and the International BFM Study Group.

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