We’re thrilled to announce a £3.8million investment in top-class research to beat blood cancers. That’s 20 exciting new grants to inspire groundbreaking discoveries in the lab, test new treatments in patients and support up-and-coming future research leaders. All-in-all, it equates to over 45 cumulative years of life-saving blood cancer research. And it will happen only because of the generous donations and hard work of our supporters.
All promising grant applications we receive are rigorously reviewed by UK and international experts. This ensures that we invest in the very best research that will have the greatest impact on patients.
The new studies cover all major blood cancer groups – leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma – as well as blood disorders that may lead to a blood cancer.
Nipping blood cancer in the bud
Many blood cancers develop from existing blood disorders. Prevention may therefore be better than cure – putting on the brakes at this early stage can stop people from getting blood cancers in the first place.
Dr Mark Drummond at the University of Glasgow will run a clinical trial through our pioneering Trials Acceleration Programme to test new treatments for myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and myeloproliferative neoplasms, two conditions that can progress to acute myeloid leukaemia.
Prof Sten Eirik Jacobsen’s work at the University of Oxford complements this by investigating how genetic changes affect the ability of MDS ‘master’ cells to outcompete normal cells in the bone marrow. And Prof Matt Collin’s group at Newcastle University will study why errors in a particular gene – GATA2 – puts certain individuals at risk of developing this disease.
In the same vein, Dr Claire Edwards, also at Oxford, will focus on understanding the cellular signals that mean certain people with a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance will develop myeloma. All of this work on precursor conditions will help identify patients most at risk of developing a blood cancer and flag new ways to treat the disease before it develops further.
Blood cancer is a mixed bag
Many of the projects will look at ‘cancer heterogeneity’. We've become more and more aware that an individual’s cancer is not a singular entity, but a hotch-potch of molecular faults, types of cells and signals from the surrounding tissue. It is a hot topic in the cancer arena currently, owing to the growing realisation that it underlies much of treatment failure, relapse and accurate prognosis.
Dr Marc Mansour – a rising star who we’re helping move from the US to start a research group at University College London – will focus on a sub-group of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia patients whose long-term survival chances are low. His new team will ask why certain genetic mutations lead to the development of the disease and why this sub-group are resistant to current chemotherapy. Prof David Linch, also at University College London, and Dr Cameron Osborne at King's College London will both analyse the genetic heterogeneity of acute myeloid leukaemia. This will provide a better prognosis of an individual’s cancer and will help to more intelligently guide clinical decisions about type and timing of treatment.
But this personalisation of treatment is already starting to happen in the clinic. Dr Kwee Yong at King's College London will run another Trials Acceleration Programme study to test a new drug combination in myeloma patients who have a specific genetic abnormality and who currently have especially poor survival chances. Matching patients to the most suitable drugs using biological information is not only the future of myeloma therapy but of cancer therapy in general, and an area where blood cancers are really leading the way.
Dr David Vetrie at the University of Glasgow, like Prof Jacobsen, will focus on cellular heterogeneity, this time in chronic myeloid leukaemia. The ‘master’ cancer cells, so-called ‘cancer stem cells’, may make up only a tiny proportion of the total population of cancer cells, but are difficult to eradicate with current treatments and may be responsible for the cancer coming back. Dr Vetrie will work out how to target the faulty proteins specific to these master cells, which may be essential to truly wipe out the cancer.
And other projects will look at the heterogeneity of the local environment in which blood cancers develop, such as normal bone marrow cells and blood vessels. Dr Pascal Lefevre at the University of Leeds will study how signals from other immune cells are essential for the survival and growth of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells and how they might vary in different patients. The work by Prof Chris Gregory at the University of Edinburgh will investigate whether hitting this support network is necessary, perhaps even sufficient, to obliterate various lymphomas.
Unveiling cancer’s invisibility cloak
Formation of cancer also requires faulty cells to evade the security guards of our body – the immune system. Dr Antonella Rotolo, a bright young doctor training in research at Imperial College London, and Dr Linda Wooldridge at the University of Bristol, will both look to turn this round to genetically modify a patient’s own immune cells to recognise specific molecular flags on the surface of cancer cells. This is to harness the precision and longevity of our own immunity to inspire new treatments for as yet incurable lymphomas and leukaemias.
A clinical trial, run by Dr Ram Malladi at the University of Birmingham, will test a new drug in patients who have had a stem cell transplant for a blood cancer to see whether it can reduce serious complications that might otherwise prevent a cure. Prof Charlie Craddock, also at Birmingham, will study the cells of acute myeloid leukaemia patients who relapse after a stem cell transplant – a group that currently has little to no treatment options. His work will reveal how a new drug combination affects different parts of the patient's immune system and whether it affects different patients in different ways.
By understanding how blood cancer works in this way and designing therapies to suit the disease and the individual, we will stop people from dying from blood cancer and give blood cancer patients a better quality of life.