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Biologist Idoya Lahortiga, awarded grant by Spanish Anti-Cancer Association

University of Navarra CIMA researcher investigates therapies for acute myeloid leukemia with poor prognosis

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04/10/05 12:56 Mª Pilar Huarte

The Spanish Anti-Cancer Association (AECC), through its Scientific Foundation, has awarded one of its grants to the biologist Idoya Lahortiga, who works in research in the field of Oncology at the Centre for Applied Medical Research (CIMA) of the University of Navarra. This 2-year aid-contract, worth € 60.000, is for the development of her work.

Dr. Mª Dolores Odero has directed the award-winning work, "Genetic Characterization of Patients with Acute Myeloid Leukemia". The AECC award ceremony was held in Seville, and was presided over by the Prince and Princess of Asturias, the Minister for Health, Elena Salgado, and the President of the Autonomic Government of Andalusia, Manuel Chaves.

As Idoya Lahortiga explained, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are "diseases which occur as a result of genetic changes in a certain type of hematopoietic progenitor cells (blood-cell formation related). They are characterized by uncontrolled proliferation of immature cells (blasts) which infiltrate the bone medulla and invade peripheral blood and other organs. Its incidence is 2-3 cases per 100,000 inhabitants per year, and it appears in every age-group, but mainly affects adults and children under a year".

After 5 years, survival is just 2%

The CIMA researcher said that, in the last few years, genetic analysis has provided indispensable information for the diagnosis and prognosis of this leukemia. However, "in spite of the advances and the development of new therapies, the percentage of recurrence in patients is high. After 5 years, the survival rate of those patients who have genetic disorders associated with poor prognosis is only 2%. Therefore, the identification of genetic disorders in these patients and of the genes involved, will allow a more precise definition of the prognosis for each patient and the development of more effective therapy".

The aim of the project is to genetically identify 300 samples from patients with AML in order to analyze the incidence of over-expression of two genes associated with poor prognosis in myeloid neoplasias (proliferation or abnormal cell growth in organic tissue). As a basis for this information, she will study the neoplastic transformation mechanism of these two genes, and its relationship with some relevant genes in this type of leukemia, using cytogenetics and molecular genetic techniques.

Idoya Lahortiga has been studying acute myeloid leukemia for 6 years. For the development of her work, in 2003, she received the only national grant awarded by the José Carreras Foundation for research into this disease. Now, to develop her training, she is going to spend some time at the Department of Human Genetics of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.