Henry Winter
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Cutting edge research from our researchers

Henry Winter
Posted by
07 May 2015

This blog takes a look at some of the scientific papers published since the beginning of the year that were a result of research funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.

First, a quick intro...

The peer review process

The first mark of legitimacy of any scientific research results has been traditionally determined by whether or not it has been published in a respected academic journal. Before publication, a paper has to be analysed and recommended by independent and impartial experts – the author’s ‘peers’. If sound scientific procedures have not been followed or if findings are inaccurate or misinterpreted, the paper will be rejected.

Prestigious academic journals include Nature, Science, The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. The journals Blood, Leukemia and Haematologica are well-respected in the field of blood cancer research.

If a reported scientific ‘breakthrough’ hasn’t been published in a peer reviewed journal, any claims made should normally be treated with caution. Even then, newspapers tend to exaggerate and hype the results, so it’s always important to go back to original research to see what the researchers found.

A roundup of recent research

Professor Jon Strefford’s (pictured) team at the University of Southampton have made important advances in the understanding of splenic marginal zone lymphoma (SMZL), a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. DNA from 175 SMZL patients was screened using high-tech ‘gene sequencing’ techniques, identifying key genetic errors that can influence a patient’s outlook. With further work, this could provide a way to tailor treatment plans based on an individual’s disease. Their findings were published in Clinical Cancer Research in March.

Professor Bertie Gottgens’ research team, based at the University of Cambridge, has created a comprehensive computer model to simulate the molecular network that controls the development of blood cells. The research was published in Nature Biotechnology in February. “The cost of developing a new drug is enormous, and much of this cost comes from new candidate drugs failing late in the drug development process,” says Professor Gottgens (pictured). “Our model could significantly reduce the risk of failure, with the potential to make drug discovery faster and cheaper.”

Also in February, a study led by Professor Tony Green (pictured) and Dr David Kent – a new LLR Bennett Fellow – at the University of Cambridge was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their group studied stem cells taken from individual patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs). The presence of different ‘genetic errors’ is known to be important in determining the severity of MPNs and how the patient will respond to treatment. The Cambridge team found that the precise order in which these genetic mutations develop also has a big influence on disease progression and response to certain drugs. The surprising findings could lead to more accurate prognosis and tailored treatments.

In May, breakthrough research was published in Nature Genetics that developed brand new technology to map the long-range communications that occur between genes and the regions of DNA that control their function. The research could lead to compelling insights into how faulty genes and their regulators drive cancer development. Dr Cameron Osborne, from King's College London, led the research while at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge.

A study published in Nature Communications in February showed that single-letter genetic variations within parts of the genome once dismissed as ‘junk DNA’ can influence the activity of genes linked to cancer through wormhole-like effects on far-off genes. The research on long-range physical looping between stretches of DNA, by scientists led by Professor Richard Houlston (pictured) at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, helps solve a mystery about how genetic variations in parts of the genome that don’t appear to be doing very much can increase cancer risk.

Also published in February, this time in Cell Reports, was an interesting paper that showed that it is almost inevitable that we will develop genetic mutations associated with leukaemia as we age. Scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found that up to 20 per cent of people aged 50-60 and more than 70 per cent of people over 90 have blood cells with the same gene changes that are found in the early stages of leukaemia development. 

And finally for this round-up, in April Cancer Cell published the promising early results of a targeted drug to treat patients with certain types of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The drug, which has the potential to reverse resistance and enhance responses to immunotherapy, was developed by a team led by Professor Mark Cragg (pictured) at the University of Southampton. It goes into the first clinical trials later this year, through a strategic partnership between Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and Cancer Research UK.