Earlier this month we met up with our researchers to find out more about the fantastic work that they're doing to help us beat blood cancer at our annual Grantholders’ Day. The day was also an opportunity for all our wonderful researchers to come together and share their research and talk about the future of blood cancer research. It was full of interesting research lectures from scientists and doctors who run blood cancer research projects and trials across the UK.
Here's a run down of some of the main talking points from the day:
Gene regulation and epigenetics
Oxford’s Jackie Boultwood talked through her exciting ongoing work on understanding how common genetic faults in myelodysplastic syndromes affect the behaviour of cells. She is using the information about genetic profile and gene activity to predict how a particular patient’s disease will progress.
Tariq Enver from the University College London then gave an overview of his pioneering work on understanding the founder cells in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and the sequence of genetic changes that turn a healthy cell into a cancerous cell.
Next up, Melania Capasso from Queen Mary University of London introduced her fascinating studies on tiny channels embedded in the surface of some white blood cells, which help the cells produce a normal antibody response. When over-active, however, these channels can help sustain growth of cancers like chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and diffuse large B cell lymphoma, so Melania is developing ways to dampen the activity of these channels to treat these diseases.
We then had short talks from three talented early career researchers. Paul Hole at Cardiff showed that abnormal metabolism can help acute myeloid leukaemia cells to proliferate, giving clues as to how to target these cells. Birmingham’s Pierre Cauchy presented work on scanning the genome of Hodgkin lymphoma cells to find areas that were unusually active – he identified one protein that orchestrated proper cellular signalling but went awry in these lymphomas. Finally, Sarra Ryan from Newcastle introduced the fascinating results of a team effort to characterise a massive genetic disruption event that, whilst rare, raises the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemias in children by 2,700-fold.
Immunology and immunotherapy
Mark Cragg from Southampton explained his work to use modified immune proteins, antibodies, to target lymphoma cells. This has led to an exciting clinical trial that will test a promising new treatment in patients for the first time.
UCL's Adele Fielding is taking a novel approach to reengineer measles viruses to safely infect and kill acute lymphoblastic leukaemia cells in adults.
And also souping up the immune system is Gavin Bendle from Birmingham, who showed the progress his lab is making to take a patient's own immune cells, engineer them in the lab to recognise flags on myeloma cells, then reintroduce them to the patient to perform a killer role.
Finally, focusing on the tissue environment surrounding cancer cells, Chris Pepper from Cardiff introduced the development of a 3D lab model that recapitulates the different cell types and physical forces seen in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells. This has shown that CLL cells grow and move around, and has been used as a more accurate way to test new drugs in the lab.
Cristina Lo Celso from Imperial presented some impressive and colourful videos of leukaemia cells and how they interact with the bone marrow 'microenvironment', with the potential to identify new drug targets to block protective niches.
And Edinburgh's Chris Gregory explained the importance of understanding how cancer is the imbalance between cell death and cell birth. His work is on factors affecting cell death and how these may be harnessed to treat non-Hodgkin lymphomas.
The final part of the day was the annual guest lecture, this year Professor Hugues de Thé gave an exciting talk on APL. Professor Hugues de Thé discovered the key driver to acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL) and the body of his work has been formative in the development of curative biological based therapies in APL.
The previous day we also got the opportunity to hear more from some of the young researchers who will lead the fight against blood cancer in the years to come and if the young researchers we met are anything to go by then the future of blood cancer research is in very safe hands. A point that Professor Shaun Thomas, an expert in myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloid leukaemias, made clear when he said: "It was wonderful to see the talent and enthusiasm of the next generation of blood cancer researchers."