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BSI response to review on environmental factors involved in development of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children

21 May 2018

A new review paper published in Nature Reviews Cancer has summarised and discussed the research around whether there are environmental factors associated with the development of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in children. One of the factors discussed is exposure to infection the early years of life. In response, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement.

Prof Sheena Cruickshank, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Professor of Public Engagement and Biomedical Sciences at The University of Manchester, said:

“This is an interesting review which has collated evidence from a large collection of papers to support the author’s view that very young childhood infection exposure may be protective to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) whereas later exposure may be harmful where there has not been an earlier infection history.

“The immune response and its regulation are crucial for our well-being, and defects in immune function are associated with a number of conditions, including autoimmunity and allergy.  However, from the evidence presented in this review, it’s not yet clear what role infection-induced inflammation, or even inflammation, will have in the development of ALL and much more investigation is needed to better define the role of the immune system or infectious agents in the development of this disease.

“It’s also important to remember that infections themselves can pose a significant risk for young babies with a developing immune system.  Parents should not be unduly alarmed by this review.  ALL is a rare disease, and there are likely to be many different factors involved in its development.”

The full review paper that this statement is in response to can be found at: Greaves 2018. A causal mechanism for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Nature Reviews Cancer DOI: 10.1038/s41568-018-0018-6