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ORLANDO, Fla. — Long before leukemia forms, patients often have a population of blood or hematopoietic stem cells, all copies of one another that seem perfectly healthy except for harboring key mutations often also found in malignant cells. Hematologists call this CHIP — clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential — because these cells progress into cancer in about 1% of patients each year.

Now, hematologists may have one of their first windows into how to prevent that. A new study, presented Monday here at the meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, offers a way to find mutations that drive CHIP and, possibly, a target that researchers might use to eliminate the clones before they have a chance to cause more serious conditions. But the work, as other experts pointed out, is a long way from being an actual therapeutic.


“CHIP is incredibly common. More than 10% of people over the age of 70 will have a large circulating clone, and they’re at higher risk of developing blood cancer like leukemia and higher all-cause mortality,” said Siddhartha Jaiswal, a pathology researcher at Stanford University and the lead researcher on the study. Recent studies have also linked CHIP to many more illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and COPD. “But one of the challenges of CHIP has been, nobody knows how to target it, and nobody knows what these mutations are actually doing.”

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