Major Medical Breakthrough
Researcher at Université de Sherbrooke Cracks One of the Mysteries of Hodgkin's Lymphoma
Sherbrooke, le 13 mars 2009 – A professor at Université de Sherbrooke and his collaborators have succeeded in understanding how the cell responsible for Hodgkin's lymphoma —a cancer of the lymph system —functions. In addition to answering a question that has baffled scientists for about a hundred years, this discovery could lead to a new treatment for the disease and save as number of lives.
Although the chances of surviving Hodgkin's lymphoma are generally good, 12 % to 15 % of patients, especially the young, do not respond well to chemotherapy. "Successful treatment," explains Hans Knecht, professor in the Department of Hematology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, "lies with understanding what causes the disease and that's just what we are doing."
The Mysterious RS Cell
Researchers have known for some time that Reed-Sternberg cells cause Hodgkin's lymphoma but, until now, much about this cell has remained a mystery. "We can now demonstrate how it is formed and divides," stated Dr. Knecht, who is also a hematologist/oncologist at the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke.
His research demonstrates the important role played by telomeres (chromosome terminal ends) in the development and death of Reed-Sternberg cells. "The mechanism that stabilizes chromosome terminal ends is clearly disrupted," explained Professor Knecht. "The cell continues to divide but, in doing so, it loses its telomeres and eventually dies. Before dying, it causes a great deal of surrounding damage."
Teams are already working on a treatment that could act on the telomeres, which would help the minority of people that the disease claims. Therefore, there could be new treatment approaches within the next five to ten years.
Discovery Acclaimed around the World
Professor Knecht's research has caught the attention of the global scientific community. The German professor Karl Lennert, one of the greatest hematopathologists of the last century, commented on Professor Knecht's research. "This paper is a sensation, a real scoop," wrote Professor Lennert. "At long last, we now know how the multinucleated Reed-Sternberg cell is formed."
The work of Professor Knecht and his collaborators—professors Raymund Wellinger, Bassem Sawan, and Sabine Mai—is reported on in the most recent edition of Leukemia, a scientific journal.
Hodgkin's lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph system that affects about 850 Canadians each year. The survival rate of this disease, which can be aggressive, is 85 %. Despite everything, a minority of people with the disease still die for reasons that are not yet understood.
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Communications Office – Health Section
819-821-8000, poste 72581; Johanne.Leroux2@USherbrooke.ca
Professor and Hematologist/Oncologist
819-821-8000, poste 12709; Hans.Knecht@USherbrooke.ca