A discovery by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research scientists at the University of Liverpool has offered hope of new treatments for patients who become resistant to drugs for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of leukaemia in the UK.
The research, which is published in the prestigious journal Blood on Thursday 24 February, has identified previously unknown biological factors that determine why patients with CLL become resistant to treatment. The scientists, who were funded by the blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, have also identified drugs that may be able to overcome this problem.
CLL is the most common form of leukaemia, diagnosed in around 3,300 people in the UK every year and while there is no cure, drugs can control the development of the blood cancer in order to prolong the life of the patient.
The team, based at the Liverpool Cancer Research UK Centre at the University of Liverpool, have shown that a protein called c-Abl in the leukaemia cells of some patients with CLL may be indirectly responsible for their poor response to chemotherapy.
Importantly, the researchers showed that it was possible to reduce the activity of the c-Abl protein, using a drug that is already in common use to treat other forms of blood cancer. The scientists showed that, when tested in the laboratory, reduction in the activity of this c-Abl protein causes the leukaemia cells to potentially become much more vulnerable to standard treatments.
Dr Joseph Slupsky, who led the research team, said, “These new findings are really exciting and we hope they should help patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia who currently don’t respond well to normal treatments.”
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said, “Laboratory research like this is important to refine treatments for patients affected by blood cancers. Any changes that prolong life-expectancy will make a huge difference, not only to the patient, but also to the friends and family of those touched by leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.”