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Twin study result in leukaemia cure

PUBLISHED: 15:01 23 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:29 01 July 2010

SARAH MURPHY & 4 year old twins OLIVIA AND ISABELLA.  PICS- GRANT TRIPLOW

SARAH MURPHY & 4 year old twins OLIVIA AND ISABELLA. PICS- GRANT TRIPLOW

SCIENTISTS heralded the end of deadly child cancer after making a world first discovery about the origins of leukaemia. Two four-year-old twin girls,

SCIENTISTS heralded the end of deadly child cancer after making a world first discovery about the origins of leukaemia.

Two four-year-old twin girls, only one of whom fell ill with the disease were the focus of the pioneering study which lead to the breakthrough.

Doctors treating Olivia Murphy, from Bromley, learnt that her sister, Isabella, did not have leukaemia and asked their parents, Justin and Sarah if they would allow them to take part in a study.

They discovered a small cluster of cells that are the root of human cancer which they can now accurately target and destroy.

Mrs Murphy, an air hostess, said: "We have always said that we would be very happy to contribute to anything that would improve the treatment.

"We have seen the families who have gone through all the chemotherapy. Anything which leads to a lessening of the intensity of the chemotherapy which can help other families is a good thing. We don't mind doing anything if it helps the research. Without the research we wouldn't have had the treatment available to us. If we can give something back we will."

The international headline grabbing results were published in the journal Science and it is now hoped that they will help research other forms of cancer.

The research will lead to less aggressive treatment for childhood leukaemia and provide the hope of new, more effective drugs.

Mrs Murphy told of the worry of having a very sick child and the stress it put on the family. She said: "Justin and I have known each other ten years. We have a good strong marriage but it does cause a strain when you're apart a lot and there are sleepless nights. We are trying to get back to normal now like going on holiday which other families take for granted. We went to EuroDisney together last September with other leukaemia families and went to Rhodes last August. But we need to inform local hospitals where we are when we go away. We are just thankful.

"We know we have been lucky compared to others. Isabella is always at the back of our minds but we like to be very positive, always thinking positive."

Professor Mel Greaves, of the Institute of Cancer Research and co-author of the research said: "This study has identified critical stem cells that initiate the disease and maintain it in a covert state for several years.

"We suspect that these cells can escape conventional chemotherapy and cause relapse during or after treatment. These are the cells that dictate the disease and provide the bull's eye to target with new therapies."

katherine.nelson@archant.co.uk

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