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Blood Cells Mol Dis. 2009 Mar-Apr;42(2):113-6. doi: 10.1016/j.bcmd.2008.10.008. Epub 2008 Dec 2.

Epidemiology of childhood leukemia in New Zealand: studies of infectious hypotheses.

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Dean's Department, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The etiology of childhood leukemia remains an enigma despite decades of research. Hypotheses of an infectious etiology have been around for a long time, and in the last 20 years there have been two main theoretical contenders. One of these involves the possibility of a specific infectious agent having a causative role, and animal leukemia viruses would be analogous to this. Another theory relates to the possible involvement of unusual patterns of infections in infancy and how they might relate to aberrant immune responses. The first of these is easier to test. In New Zealand, since the early 1990s we have embarked on a program of research on the epidemiology of childhood leukemia. One of the goals has been to test hypotheses about the role of infection in causation. A variety of study designs have been employed, including descriptive, clustering, case-control and contributions to pooled international analyses. Some of the more interesting findings include: there has been a marked increase in the incidence of acute lymphoblastic leukemia among young children in New Zealand since the mid 1960s, poorer families are at greater risk, and there is no clear support for hypotheses of an infectious cause from the New Zealand data. However because of our small total population (4 million people) we cannot produce clear results on our own. Hence our current international collaborations, for example in CLIC (the Childhood Leukemia International Consortium) represent an important step forward. As countries work together across international boundaries we have a renewed hope that the causes of the childhood leukemias will be unlocked in the foreseeable future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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