Scientists at the University of Birmingham are designing innovative treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of blood cancer in the UK.
Professor Tatjana Stankovic and her team at the University’s School of Cancer Sciences will test whether drugs that inhibit DNA-damaged cells from repairing themselves can target the ‘Achilles heel’ of CLL.
The team has been awarded £600,000 for the three-year project by the blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
Chemotherapy damages the DNA of cancer cells, triggering them to ‘commit suicide’, and most CLL patients respond to this treatment. However, up to 15 per cent of patients with CLL carry cancer cells with a genetic mutation that means they do not die after chemotherapy. Additionally, chemotherapy also kills healthy cells, causing many unpleasant side effects.
The DNA ‘repair inhibitors’ have already been proven to be successful in treating breast cancer and some other blood cancers. The University of Birmingham team believe that these drugs could also be used to target CLL cells which have become resistant to standard chemotherapy.
The Birmingham scientists think that a combination of the inhibitor drugs, which prevent proteins within cancerous cells from repairing the cell after chemotherapy, could help overcome drug resistance.
Prof Stankovic said: “Some patients carry genetic mutations within their leukaemia cells which make them resistant to chemotherapy. By testing various drugs in the laboratory we can establish the best way to prevent the cancer cells from repairing themselves and multiplying. The ultimate aim is to develop effective drugs for leukaemia patients in clinical trials.”
Dr David Grant, Science Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, added: “CLL is currently incurable, but we hope that this research will be another step towards finding better treatments for people affected by this common form of blood cancer.”