Henry Winter
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£2million investment to improve teenage leukaemia survival

Henry Winter
Posted by
02 Aug 2011

Newcastle scientists have been granted £2 million by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to help improve survival rates for teenagers and other patients with the blood cancer leukaemia.

The Leukaemia Research Cytogenetics Group (LRCG) at Newcastle University has been funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research for nearly 20 years. The LRCG maintains the largest cytogenetic database of its kind in the world; containing genetic data from more than 27,000 children and adults diagnosed with acute leukaemia and treated on UK clinical trials.

Thanks to continued investment by the charity, great improvements in survival rates for blood cancer patients of all ages have been made in recent decades but some subgroups, like teenagers and young adults and those with specific changes in their genes, remain difficult to treat. The LRCG will investigate the role genetics plays in leukaemia development and help understand how it can be used to tailor treatment more effectively for groups of patients like teenagers.

By studying how different genetic abnormalities within a patient’s leukaemia cells dictate how well he or she will respond to treatment, the Newcastle team are identifying those groups of patients who need more, less or different therapy. With genetic tests on cells taken from patients, they are now able to advise doctors around the UK on treatment decisions.

The new five year grant will enable the Newcastle University group, led by Professor Christine Harrison and Professor Anthony Moorman, to use cutting edge technologies to determine the genetic changes in large number of patients; including a better understanding of those abnormalities which are already known and to look for new important abnormalities.

Professor Moorman said: “After years of research, we are able to predict how many patients will respond to treatment by looking at particular gene abnormalities found in their leukaemia cells. This new project will allow us to look at a much larger number of genes simultaneously. As the patients we study will have been treated on modern protocols, we will then be able to understand how groups of abnormal genes work together to determine their response to the leukaemia treatment. The data generated will help to further improve survival and reduce toxicity.” 

Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “The database at Newcastle University has already proved absolutely crucial in improving diagnosis and treatment for children with leukaemia. Our continued investment in the team’s work will help build on this success and should help improve survival of teenagers in particular.”

In 2010 Newcastle University was named a ‘Centre of Excellence’ by the national blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, which now has £5.5 million invested in 18 medical research projects in the area.