Rachael Davies
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Research Open Day - Cardiff University

Rachael Davies
Posted by
02 Dec 2015

With £1.7m invested in research at Cardiff University, we opened up the doors to our supporters so that they could find out more about the research happening on their doorstep.

On Saturday 28 November more than 40 local supporters attended our Research Open Day at Cardiff University School of Medicine.

The new Head of Haematology, Professor Oliver Ottman gave an informative introduction and welcome and then handed over to Professor Chris Fegan who gave an interesting outline of the his time at the research department here and the progress that has been made during that time. Our supporters were then free to roam the labs where there were several work stations set up and lots of researchers on hand to showcase their research - their enthusiasm was clear as was their passion for their work which helped make this event so insightful and awe-inspiring.

Cardiff University has been recognised for its world-class research into the two most common forms of leukaemia in adults – chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which together affect more than 6,000 people in the UK every year.

Over recent years Cardiff University has emerged as a key player for driving research into better treatments and cures for leukaemia patients in South Wales and across the UK. Our researchers in Cardiff University work closely with doctors at the University Hospital of Wales, to ensure any new drugs and improvements in diagnosis benefit patients as soon as possible.

New tests for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

Our researchers, led by Professor Duncan Baird, have developed a quick and cheap genetic test to predict how aggressive a person’s CLL is likely to be. The test is the most reliable to date and may one day soon help doctors decide whether a patient needs treatment straightaway or whether treatment can be put on hold. It means that the type and timing of treatment can be personalised, and patients won’t have to endure harsh treatments unnecessarily.

It could also have an important psychological benefit for patients who have just been told they have cancer, especially those who don’t need immediate treatment, and allow them to more confidently plan their lives and immediate futures.

The biology of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

A major research programme, run by Professor Chris Pepper, is exploring how CLL cells survive and grow, and eventually become resistant to drugs – a key step in seeking out new drug targets. By understanding what makes these cells ‘tick’, they aim to design better drugs that will be able to target the cancer cells. This should reduce the side effects currently associated with treatments, and so make a big difference to the patients and their families.

Cardiff scientists, led by Dr Elisabeth Walsby, have also created an innovative way to study CLL. The unique laboratory system mimics the different cells and physical forces found in the body, providing a highly realistic environment in which scientists can study leukaemia cell behaviour and test new drugs. 

How acute myeloid leukaemia starts

Dr Richard Darley and Dr Alex Tonks at are studying the genetic abnormalities that can impair the normal development of white blood cells. These genetic faults can cause immature blood cells to grow out of control, leading to acute myeloid leukaemia. By homing in on the precise faults in the cell’s machinery, they are seeking to improve AML therapy by designing a suite of drugs to hit the disease’s 'Achilles’ heel'.

Trialling new treatments for leukaemia patients

A major clinical trial being run at the university is testing new drugs for the treatment of AML in elderly patients. The majority of AML patients are diagnosed when they're over 60, but many are too frail or have other health problems that mean they can't withstand the current harsh chemotherapy. This trial is looking at how new drugs can be safely combined with existing drugs to improve the survival chances for these patients.

Dr Steve Knapper is trialling a new targeted drug, tefinostat, for chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia – a rare form of blood and bone marrow cancer that affects around 450 people in the UK each year. There are currently very few treatment options and over half of patients die within two years of diagnosis.

At this time, Bloodwise is investing £1.7m into research in Cardiff University.

Our supporters gained a real insight into the activities that the money they raise helps to fund. Many left with their heads buzzing with all of the information that they took in! We received fantastic feedback:-

  • We had a very insightful visit today into the amazing work they are doing. Thanks for inviting Tour94
  • It was amazing to be there this morning to hear and 'see' first hand the crucial research taking place. Thank you Rachael and team for making this happen!
  • Thank you Rachael and team, and staff for giving us the opportunity to learn more about the amazing research taking place in Cardiff.
  • Thanks again for the invite. Great to see how much effort is being done here in Cardiff in making blood cancers easier to manage!
  • Fab morning hearing about all the current research going into blood cancers in Cardiff with Bloodwise. It was very eye opening and informative, the work being done and how it's being applied is mind boggling! They're making (and have made) a huge impact in the treatment of some of the most difficult blood cancers, particularly CLL. 
    Very inspiring for an aspiring researcher! 

Thank you to everyone who came and to our fantastic researchers who are leading the way in blood cancer research in Cardiff University. Special thanks to Professor Chris Pepper and Dr Alex Tonks for making the day happen and to Professor Oliver Ottman and Professor Chris Fegan for being on hand to chat to supporters and answer their questions.  


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