Early Exposure of Children to Microbes Can Help Them Avoid Developing Leukemia, Shows Study

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It might sound confusing to find out that to protect a child from leukemia you must expose them as infants and babies to bacteria and infection.

But a new study shows that some children have a genetic mutation that increases their risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This is a common type of childhood cancer. Scientists believe that children are more likely to develop ALL if they have little interaction with other children or who live in a germ-free environment.

After more than 30 years of research, Mel Greaves, a professor of Cell Biology at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and the author of the study has gathered with his team data on what can cause childhood leukemia. They have published the study on 21 May in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer.

The Lack of Infection Was The Problem

The authors found out that the disease is more common in countries that have a higher socio-economic development:

“That didn’t make sense in terms of infection because normally infectious diseases track in the opposite direction so I inverted the problem and thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s lack of infection that’s critical.’”

Lack of Infection Rising the Risk of Developing Childhood Leukemia

Researchers discovered that children born with the genetic mutation that increases the risk of developing leukemia have a higher chance to develop it if they are not exposed to bacteria and viruses early in their life.

However, this doesn’t mean that families should make their children play in the dirt. Greaves suggests that it’s about other types of germs:

“At birth, children pick up microbes from the mother through breastfeeding and from social contacts with other children, so it’s really the way those aspects of our social behaviour have changed that seems to be elevating the risk.”

Childhood leukemia is 90% curable, but finding a way to prevent it is great news.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere