Throughout the year, Bloodwise researchers publish findings from the research they've been working on, thanks to your support. Below we feature some interesting snippets of research published by our Bloodwise-funded scientists. We look at how a genetic variant can help drive leukaemia, developing a new cell system to test drugs, and delve into the mechanics of how a clump of cells develop into a vast and complex blood system.
Insights into genetics behind common leukaemia
We recently reported to the press that Bloodwise scientists funded by you, identified how an inherited genetic variant, associated with an increased risk of developing the most common type of leukaemia, helps cancer cells survive. The findings of the study could lead to new ways to target chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) – a currently incurable form of blood cancer.
Led by Prof Richard Houlston, researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research found that a single letter DNA sequence variation – known as a single nucleotide polymorphism – at a specific site in the genome disrupts the activity of a protein called RELA. This protein is involved in a process of controlled cell death that is a key part of the body’s natural defence against disease.
Not only does this important research provide a valuable insight into how different genes interact to help cancer cells survive, but understanding this complex genetic picture will leave us better equipped to design drugs to selectively kill these cells. And we desperately need new treatment approaches, as the only hope of a cure for CLL is a risky stem cell transplant, which isn’t an option for many patients.
But the good news is that thanks to you, we are supporting lots of exciting research into CLL that will hopefully give us a bigger picture on the mechanisms that drive the disease, allowing researchers to develop targeted therapies directed at these cancer-specific pathways.
New cell system will help test combination therapies in leukaemia
One of our Gordon Piller PhD students – Kate Dorman – was involved in a paper recently. She is working with Newcastle researchers to develop a cell-based model, which could be used to test therapies for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
Although we can grow ALL cells happily in the lab, they don’t reflect the ‘real-life’ situation of the patient. Cellular interactions in these lab grown cells are very different from those of cancer and host cells within the body, where cells are in a dynamic, reciprocal relationship with their surrounding environment. Artificially grown cells also fail to predict drug responses observed in patients, given that they lack the genetic complexity of real cancer cells, a phenomenon known to drive drug resistance and relapse.
Mesenchymal stem cells – a type of stem cell in adults that are found in the bone marrow – were used to support the growth of ALL cells from a wide range of patient samples. The cultured ALL cells also maintained the genetic complexity seen when the sample was taken from the patient.
Researchers then used this model to test out a series of drug combinations, and saw that the response in the cell-based model matched the response that was previously seen in the patient. In the future, the cell model could help clinicians develop clinically effective combination therapies for ALL.
Decisions blood cells have to make
When something goes wrong in cells and makes them turn cancerous, in order to tackle it, it’s crucial to understand how the cell should work and what goes awry to cause these healthy cells to grow out of control.
Dr David Kent, a Bloodwise Bennett Fellow, and Prof Bertie Göttgens in Cambridge used state-of-the art technology to create a map of the molecular symphony that directs the developmental ‘decisions’ of immature blood cells in mice embryos. This lays the groundwork to identify the key molecular signals that transform a small clump of cells into a fully working and diverse blood system.
And we’re delighted to hear that Dr Kent has been recently awarded a prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant, which is given to talented up-and-coming researchers who have the proven potential to become future research leaders in their field. He will investigate further the physical biology of adult blood stem cells, which builds from his work started in his Bennett Fellowship.
We hope you've enjoyed reading about our brilliant research that your support has funded.