A Newcastle scientist has been granted over £760,000 by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research for a five year project to improve the diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer.
Dr Vikki Rand was awarded a prestigious ‘Bennett Fellowship’ by the charity to establish a research team at Newcastle University. They will use cutting-edge technology to scan the entire genome of an aggressive set of cancers known as B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas, in order to identify underlying genetic abnormalities within the cancer cells.
Lymphoma is the third most common cancer of children in the UK, but the clinical relevance of differences between the two main types of lymphoma, Burkitt lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, has still not been defined. Treatment is the same for both groups.
The team will compare the genetic data of lymphoma patients with their treatment outcome in order to identify genetic ‘markers’ for patients who do not respond to current treatment. Correspondingly, the project will also identify those children who could be treated with less intensive and toxic treatment.
Overall, 90% of children with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma will now completely recover but current treatment is highly toxic and children are in hospital for extended periods. Relapse is almost always fatal, with less than 10% of children who relapse treated successfully for a second time. New drugs are desperately needed for these patients.
Dr Vikki Rand, who leads the team at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University, said: “The identification of genetic factors involved in childhood lymphoma will improve our understanding of the cancer’s biology, helping us develop treatment with less toxic side-effects.”
The project will also focus on the genetics of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in Africa, where in some areas it is the most common childhood cancer. Because of resource constraints, treatment there is often less intensive. Despite this, around half of children are still completely cured. Dr Rand is hoping to identify those patients in the UK who could be cured in this way, sparing them the often life-long side effects of toxic treatment.
Specifically working with patients in Malawi, where an international collaboration will allow comparison of data and response to treatment. Dr Rand will also attempt to establish the genetic markers in lymphoma which determine whether a child can only be cured through intensive treatment.
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “There is a need to identify new and gentler treatments for B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the UK. While it is currently one of the more successful treatment regimes, it is also one of the most toxic."
Newcastle University is a Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research ‘Centre of Excellence’ and the charity has over £6 million invested in 19 projects in the area.