A University of Sheffield scientist has received a £250,000 research grant to explore a ground-breaking treatment for blood cancer. Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research awarded the grant to Dr Srdjan Vitovski, who works at Sheffield University Medical School, to fund a three year project exploring treatment for myeloma.
Myeloma is diagnosed in over 3,500 people each year in the UK and is currently incurable. It is characterised by the uncontrolled spread of white blood cells in the bone marrow. New, less toxic approaches to treatment are urgently needed. Chemotherapy or radiation remain the only available treatment options, which often only temporarily halt tumour growth, as well as producing numerous side effects.
The team has shown in the laboratory that a natural human protein known as TRAIL, when combined with chemotherapy, can completely eradicate myeloma cells. In this new project Dr Vitovski’s team will substitute chemotherapy for another human protein known as SMAC.
As well as targeting myeloma cells while sparing healthy ones, it is hoped that the new treatment will be far more effective at killing cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are the ‘mother cells’ which limitlessly produce cancer cells. If these are not eliminated by treatment, it is almost certain that the patient will relapse.
Dr Vitovski said: “The normal role of the TRAIL protein in the body’s immune system is to prevent the formation and growth of tumours by causing the cancer cells to self-destruct. These characteristics make TRAIL an ideal candidate for the development of anti-cancer treatment.
“We predict that in combination with the SMAC protein we could have a highly effective and non-toxic cancer treatment. If laboratory testing is successful, we will then be able to move it on to make a real difference to patients with myeloma and other cancers.”
The team will use a range of state of the art DNA manipulation techniques to produce and purify these proteins, heightening their cancer killing potential.
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Recent advances in our understanding of how cancer develops have highlighted the importance of cancer stem cells in explaining why current cancer treatment fails. Chemotherapy drugs are primarily designed to target and kill rapidly dividing cancer cells but cancer stem cells are much slower to multiply and so can avoid treatment.
“The development of treatments which kill cancer cells while sparing healthy cells, remains the holy grail. Dr Vitovski’s new project is an exciting part of this quest.”