Liz Burtally
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Bloodwise researchers meet to share their ideas and learn from one another

Liz Burtally
Posted by
04 Nov 2016

Grantholders' Day

On October 31st, around 300 scientists – made up of our grantholders and their lab researchers – gathered together for a day packed full of exciting research updates and lively discussions surrounding blood cancer research.

Biomarker discovery and development

In our first session we heard from Dr Vikki Rand from Newcastle University, Prof Simon Wagner from the University of Leicester and Prof David Westhead from the University of Leeds who presented their work on biomarkers.

We heard how biomarkers - a measurable biological indicator of a condition – are being used to improve outcomes in aggressive lymphomas and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). Because biomarkers can be used to detect or monitor the progression of cancer, or predict if a patient will respond to treatment, they have become an important tool for blood cancer research. Biomarker research like this could help doctors draw up treatment plans tailored for the individual patient, delivering the maximum benefits to people living with blood cancer.

Cancer researchers of the future

After hearing from the leaders in the field, researchers in the early stages of their careers took the stage. Dr Sheela Abraham from the University of Glasgow, and Dr Matthew Blunt from the University of Southampton spoke about their Bloodwise-funded research that was been published a few months ago. Their research could lead to new drug targets in chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), and overcome resistance to B-cell receptor (BCR) inhibitors drugs in CLL.

Dr Matthew Blunt presents his paper on overcoming IL-4 driven drug resistance in CLL.

The Trials Acceleration Programme Showcase

In the afternoon, we listened to an interesting overview of our Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) from Prof Charlie Craddock, University of Birmingham; Prof Paresh Vyas, the University of Oxford; and Prof Claire Harrison, Guy’s & St Thomas’.

TAP fast-tracks new, highly promising drugs from the lab to the patient through robustly designed clinical trials, and Prof Craddock said this was truly ‘a gold’ for clinical trials in the UK.

We heard about the RAvVA trial, which is assessing if combining a chemotherapy called azacitidine with a biological therapy called vorinostat that blocks cancer growth, is better than azacitidine alone. The drugs are being tested in patients who are unable to tolerate intensive chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Results are expected soon, so watch this space for updates!    

Myeloproliferative disorders are rare blood cancers cause abnormal clotting and bleeding, and can lead to more aggressive disease, such as myelofibrosis or leukaemia. We heard how the MAJIC trial is investigating a drug called ruxolitinib to treat myeloproliferative disorders, and has just finished recruiting patients. We are very much looking forward to findings of this trial, which are due at the end of next year.

Cellular immunotherapy

In the afternoon, we learnt about immunotherapies, which turn the body’s own defences against cancer.

Dr Heather Long, University of Birmingham, Prof Persis Amrolia from The Institute of Child Health and Prof Emma Morris, UCL gave us a fascinating overview of their immunotherapy research. We heard how T cells are being modified to treat non-Hodgkin lymphomas, such as Burkitt lymphomas associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection as well as those that aren’t. Researchers are also harnessing T cells to prevent leukaemia from returning after a stem cell transplant, and new techniques are being developed so we can optimise the therapeutic potential of modified immune cells.

Prof Emma Morris talks about maximising the therapeutic potential
of T cell immunotherapy.

Annual guest lecture

Wrapping up the proceedings with our Guest Lecture, Dr Michel Sadelain from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York delivered a fantastic overview of how far we have come in T cell immunotherapy, and gave us a vision of the future. Lots of exciting immunotherapy trials are taking place, and some are funded by Bloodwise. These include a programme at King’s College London, which is using current immunotherapy techniques to prevent relapses that are common in  AML, particularly in patients undergoing a stem cell transplant. We also support a large clinical trial called COBALT, led by Dr Karl Peggs at UCL, which is testing the re-engineered T-cell approach in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Students’ and Clinical Fellows’ Day

 On 1st November, our PhD students and clinical research training fellows met to communicate their exciting research findings and develop ideas with each other. Students in their final year of their PhD presented their work, whilst first and second year students summarised their research in a poster.

Although this is a much smaller event than our Grandholders’ Day – with around 40 people attending – it gives our students and clinical fellows a valuable opportunity to hone their research presentation skills in a friendly and supportive environment.

What did we hear about?

Nine researchers presented a varied and fascinating programme of research, which could hold promise for patients with leukaemia, lymphoma, as well as rarer cancer types such as myeloproliferative neoplasms. After lunch, researchers who presented posters summarised their work in less than two minutes, and the floor was open for questions.

What really hit home was that our cancer researchers of the future are doing fantastic research that could have far reaching impact for people with blood cancer. We certainly will be following their progress with great interest.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the fantastic blood cancer research that Bloodwise are funding, thanks to your support. World-class research like this is making a real difference to people with blood cancer, but we still need to do more. Find out more on how you can ensure we continue to beat blood cancer.

Find out more about our exciting research here >