Liz Burtally
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New Years Honours 2017 – leading Bloodwise scientists recognised in list

Liz Burtally
Posted by
Updated 09 Aug 2018

The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List recognises the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom. We were delighted to see some of our Bloodwise funded researchers on the list – find out more here.

Hundreds of sports stars, celebrities, community and charity champions and politicians have been recognised in the New Year's Honours List, which is set out by the Queen. Appointees in the Queen’s List also include the work of a number of the UK's leading scientists. The tradition dates back to 1890 and honours high achieving people, and recognises ordinary people who have made achievements in public life or committed themselves to serving and helping Britain.

As well as three of our researchers receiving an OBE, we were delighted to hear that our Honorary President – Mr Richard James Delderfield – received an MBE for services to leukaemia and lymphoma research.

Bloodwise researchers honoured

This year three of our amazing Bloodwise funded researchers are recognised for their outstanding contributions to science and medicine, and have been awarded an OBE: Professor Ghulam Mufti (for services to haematological medicine), Professor James Neil (for the advancement of biomedical sciences) and Professor Anne Willis (for services to Biomedical Science and Promoting the Careers of Women in Science).

Here we summarise their contributions to blood cancer research through work supported by you.

Improving treatment for myelodysplasia and leukaemia

Based at Kings College London, Professor Ghulam Mufti is interested in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and their link to an aggressive type of leukaemia called acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

Professor Ghulam Mufti.

MDS are a group of blood cancers that are found in the bone marrow, and impair the production of healthy blood cells. People who have MDS that isn’t managed have a high chance of developing AML, but how MDS progresses to AML is still unclear.

Professor Mufti’s team is looking at whether autoimmunity, where in the right conditions the body’s immune system can attack its own cells, can offer a form of protection against progression to leukaemia. Researchers hope to be able to develop new treatments that enable a patient’s own immune system to eradicate the cancer cells more effectively.

People who have MDS that isn’t managed may develop AML, but researchers are still unclear on how MDS progresses to AML. Credit: Wellcome Images.

The group are also mapping out the sequence of genetic faults acquired by patients with deficient blood cell production over time – including aplastic anaemias (AA) and MDS – and how the immune system shapes this. This will not only reveal how and why some AA and MDS cases develop into more aggressive diseases, but also guide therapies to block the disease by manipulating the immune environment.

Find out more about Professor Mufti’s research here.

Understanding the biology of lymphoma

Professor James Neil at the University of Glasgow has been working with Professor Ewan Cameron researching the role of the RUNX1 genes in lymphoma development, which could lead to improved treatments for a range of cancers.

Professor James Neil.

In healthy cells, the RUNX1 gene helps maintain normal blood cell formation by regulating the level of activity of other genes. But it is frequently overactive, or ‘over expressed’, in many types of cancer. Researchers funded by Bloodwise and Cancer Research UK have found that some cancers that were not previously linked to changes affecting RUNX1 still heavily rely on the gene to survive - even when it is functioning normally.

Recent work has shown that ‘switching off’ the RUNX1 gene in lymphoma cells in the lab made them more susceptible to chemotherapy. Researchers are now collaborating with scientists in the US who have developed a drug that specifically blocks the RUNX1 gene, which is showing promise in the laboratory at selectively killing cancer cells.

Read more about Professor Neil’s work on lymphoma here.

Developing new therapies for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Professor Anne Willis – Director of the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester – is working with Dr Martin Turner of the Babraham Institute in Cambridge to understand the role of the eIF4B protein in cancer.

Professor Anne Willis.

Under healthy conditions, elF4B helps send signals within a cell, but when faulty plays an important role in the progression of a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, called diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). High levels of eIF4B helps DLBCL cells grow and resist chemotherapy, and is a sign that patients may fare poorly.

Researchers are studying the interplay between eIF4B and other proteins, so they can develop new therapies that inhibit these key signals.

Read more about Professor Willis’ research here.

We would like to say congratulations to our researchers who have been recognised for their hard work and achievements, and we hope that you enjoyed our update.

Research like this is only possible thanks to the support from you. Find out more on how you can ensure our work to beat blood cancer continues.

Find out more about our life-changing research.