Scientists from the University of Glasgow are investigating how the blood cancer leukaemia develops in the bone marrow.
Professor William Cushley, professor of molecular immunology in the School of Life Sciences, and Professor Brad Ozanne, honorary associate of the Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology, have been granted £115,000 for the two-year project by the blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
The team are studying how acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common form of cancer in children, spreads in the blood. ALL is characterised by the uncontrollable multiplication of mutated white blood cells in the bone marrow, which crowd out healthy blood cells.
The University of Glasgow researchers will look at the role of specific ‘receptor’ molecules on the surface of leukaemia cells that are responsible for interacting and binding with other cells. This interaction causes the leukaemia cell surface molecules to signal instructions to the cell to multiply. It is believed that these signals also play a key role in overriding the natural cell death process of leukaemia cells, so that mutated cells rapidly build up in the blood.
By tracking the signals between leukaemia cells in the bone marrow, the team can see whether they can be intercepted or blocked, preventing the cancer from spreading. This could reduce the physical impact of treatment for patients and enhance their chances of survival.
Current treatments for ALL are intensive and gruelling for patients. While survival rates for children are good, only 40 per cent of adult ALL patients are currently cured of the disease. The study will greatly improve the understanding of this type of blood cancer and could pave the way for breakthroughs in treatments.
Professor Cushley said: “ALL is one of the most aggressive forms of blood cancer, and patients need treatment as soon as it has been diagnosed. By investigating how signalling between leukaemia cells causes them to multiply, we can develop new treatments that stop the cancer spreading and greatly improve patients’ long-term outlooks.”
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “We are committed to funding the most exciting projects that will help us beat blood cancer. This research will give us a vital insight into how this form of cancer spreads, and will provide a basis for further important studies and treatments.”