Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have been granted £1 million by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to design new approaches to prevent the blood cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma spreading in patients.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma appears as a solid tumour most commonly in the lymph nodes of the neck, chest, armpit or groin. Around 950 people are diagnosed in Scotland each year, making it the seventh most common type of cancer.
Suprisingly, aggressive lymphomas often contain large numbers of dying cancer cells alongside those that are multiplying. The Edinburgh scientists have found that these dying tumour cells release molecules, in tiny bubbles known as ‘microvesicles’, that help stimulate the growth of new cancer cells.
Professor Chris Gregory, who is leading the new four-year study, said: “Dying lymphoma cells actually aid the growth of more cancer cells in a number of different ways. If we can develop drugs that switch the cell-birth and cell-death equation in favour of overall cell death,then we may be able to find a cure for all patients.”
Dying cancer cells are suspected to re-programme immune cells called phagocytes to actually support the growth of the cancer. Phagocytes are the ‘eating cells’ found around the tumour which are designed to ingest harmful and dying tumour cells.
The researchers will use state-of-the-art technology to examine this and other biological processes in order to determine exactly how dying tumour cells hijack the body’s immune response to support cancer growth.
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Current drugs designed to kill tumours have variable success rates, with many patients not responding or relapsing after treatment.
“If drugs can be developed to prevent the dying cells from promoting tumour growth, it will represent a significant step towards achieving a cure for these blood cancers, when used in conjunction with current drugs.”
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research currently has over £4.2 million invested in eight blood cancer research projects in Edinburgh.