Microbes help kids keep cancer at bay finds study!

Acute leukemia is the most common kind of cancer affecting children in developed nations today. Add to it, it’s one third of all pediatric malignancies. Cancer researcher Dr. Mel Greaves, director of the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, United Kingdom, offers a strong review paper that the disease happens due to a “two-step process” of mutation and lack of exposure to microbes.

The second step is a lack of microbial exposure in early life could increase the risk of developing leukemia. Dr. Greaves says, “Paradoxically, we think the problem is not infection but a lack of infection early in life.”

It’s, he says, is a paradox of progress in developed societies in which there is a mismatch between the evolutionary programming of the immune system and modern lifestyles that limit opportunities for microbial exposure early in life. Basically, children are not exposed enough to the elements. They are too protected thanks to their lifestyle and modern surrounding.

The review looked at the origins of acute leukemia which has been increasing in Europe by around 1% each year. This is part of a 13% global increase in the incidence of childhood cancers, including acute leukemias, as previously reported by Medscape Medical News.

Dr. Greaves says, “What we are reporting is what I hope is a resolution to a 100-year controversy on what causes childhood leukemia.” He adds, “What we think is the major cause are patterns of infection (or the lack of ‘infections’) that are characteristic of developed societies.”

Two-Step Process

The new analysis draws on evidence gleaned from 30 years of research, both from Greaves and other experts across the globe, on the genetics, cell biology, immunology, and epidemiology of childhood leukemia. The development of leukemia develops in two discrete steps. The first step involves a genetic mutation that occurs before birth and predisposes the infant to subsequently developing leukemia. The in utero initiation by fusion gene formation or hyper diploidy generates a covert, preleukemic clone, but only 1% of children who are born with this genetic change will eventually develop the disease.

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