Science Questions

Can a baby be born with leukaemia?

Tue, 11th Dec 2012

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Question

Pauline via text asked:

A baby died at 3 months of age with acute leukaemia, but the doctor said the baby was born with it. Could that be the case?

Answer

Mark D. -   Yes, so what we now know is that many of the infantile leukaemias actually had their origins in utero. 

So, when we go and have a look at whenever any baby is born - and you would’ve seen this with your own kids - you have a heel prick test and this is taken away to be tested for a number of common genetic diseases.  When you go back and have a look at these samples [from a leukaemia patient], for instance these chromosomal translocations, these abnormal fusion genes that drive leukaemia, are they present when the baby is actually born?  In a number of cases, the answer is yes.  So, this abnormal genetic event is not inherited, but for some reason, happens while the baby is in utero.

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