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One family's vision inspires our research to this day

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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22 Feb 2016

One family's vision

 

Our 2015 winter appeal was inspired by the letters our founders, the Eastwood family, wrote to doctors at great Ormond Street Hospital, after they lost their six year old daughter Susan to leukaemia.

A series of hundreds of letters led to the Leukaemia Research Fund being founded back in 1960, as the Eastwood’s gained the support of some visionary doctors and pledged to do anything they could to stop other families going through what they did.

If Susan was diagnosed today, there’s a 9 in 10 chance that she’d live. But we know there’s still a lot more to do before we can say that for the 137 different types of blood cancer.

We now know that just five conditions account for nearly 70% of the lives lost to blood cancer within five years of diagnosis. Imagine if we could save all these people. It would be a huge step forward in getting us closer to the Eastwood family’s vision of a world without blood cancer.

In November, Susan’s sister Sylvia wrote a letter to our supporters, telling the Eastwood’s story and asking for help in tackling these five targets with the same determination her family brought to beating childhood leukaemia 55 years ago.

Seeing Mum’s handwriting on that old yellow note paper brought a few tears to my eyes, and made me so proud of my parents’ courage. It reminded me why this charity is what it is today: a movement of people driven by the same spirit of compassion and determination not to give up in the face of adversity. You can help finish what my parents started.

Sylvia Gaunt, Susan's sister

Watch Sylvia telling the Eastwood's story on ITV >

Thanks to the £38,000 you raised through our winter appeal, we’re in a much better position to tackles these five big targets.

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Five big targets

This year, large parts of our research will focus on five conditions – which make up 70% of the total lives lost to blood cancer. We’ve just approved £3.6 million of new grants to develop innovative therapies for myeloma and acute myeloid leukaemia; we’re trialling new targeted drugs in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients; and we granted £1.1 million to understand the biology and improve treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes.

Here's details of our investments in each area, and some examples of projects from the researchers on the front line:

Myeloma 

21 projects, £7.2 million
Myeloma isn’t usually considered a curable disease, but we’re getting better and better at treating it and understanding the genetic changes behind it – and the things we learn from our research could even help us stop it happening altogether.

We now know that almost all people with myeloma have had a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance (MGUS) first – although not everyone with MGUS will develop myeloma.

I’m focusing on understanding the variation in cellular signals that mean certain people with MGUS are more likely to develop myeloma. This will help identify the people with MGUS who are most at risk, and flag new ways to treat it before it develops into myeloma.


Dr Claire Edwards
University of Oxford


Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma

19 projects, £9.9 million
Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is the most commonly diagnosed blood cancer. It can be very difficult to treat if patients relapse.

We know that a messenger protein called mTOR is involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells, but the current drugs that block mTOR from doing this don’t work for every person.

I’m running a trial through the Bloodwise Trials Acceleration Programme to test a new drug that blocks mTor in a different way, and which we think will be more effective at stopping diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in its tracks.


Dr Graham Collins
Oxford University Hospitals

 

Acute myeloid leukaemia

55 projects, £31.2 million
The genetic changes behind acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) are much more complex than for many other types of blood cancer. In addition, most people diagnosed with AML are more elderly, and many can’t tolerate the side effects of standard chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant.

We’re focusing on opening new trials for all patients, developing personalised treatments without those harsh side effects, and pioneering a treatment approach known as immunotherapy that could have benefits far beyond AML.

I'm trialling a therapy that re-programmes a patient's own immune cells to recognise and target acute myeloid leukaemia. If this works, it could be the catalyst for similar treatment approaches for other blood cancers, and even other types of cancer.

Dr Emma Morris
University College London

 

Myelodysplastic syndromes

17 projects, £9.6 million
Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of blood cancers where blood cell production breaks down. People with MDS left unmanaged have a high chance of developing AML. Currently there aren’t many treatments for MDS, but we want to change that.

Our research is looking at the DNA of people with MDS to identify the changes in patients’ DNA to help find new drugs to treat the condition.

I’m pioneering a way to correct the cancer-causing genetic mistakes in the DNA in affected cells using a new cutting-edge gene editing technology – which, in the future, could treat the disease itself as well as stopping MDS from changing into AML.

Professor Jackie Boultwood
University of Oxford

 

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

31 projects, £9.8 million
Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is the most common leukaemia in the UK, and until recently there were very few options for treating it, but our work has laid the foundations for some very promising new drugs that target the faulty signals at the root of the cancer, rather than attacking healthy and cancerous cells alike.

We believe that in the next decade, we can turn CLL into a condition that people keep at bay with just a daily pill – but only if we do the right things, right now.

There's been remarkable headway in the last five years in terms of understanding how this disease works.

 

Professor Chris Pepper
Institute of Cancer & Genetics, Cardiff University

 



These are just some examples of our life-saving research into these five conditions – your support will enable us to keep investing and save more lives. £3 a month could fund essential supplies in one of our laboratories across in the UK, so our researchers can keep working to beat blood cancer.

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