Scientists in Oxford hope to block cancer relapse by using state-of-the-art technology to find and study the ‘chemotherapy-resistant’ cancer cells and genes that cause relapse in the most common aggressive leukaemia in the UK.
The majority of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cases are diagnosed in older patients, where patients over 60 years of age have a cure rate of only 5%. With cancer relapse affecting many of these patients and causing such a poor prognosis, research into its prevention is greatly required.
Professor Paresh Vyas and his team at the University of Oxford have been awarded £195,000 by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to track down the genes that cause cancer cells to become ‘chemo-resistant’. These cells are not killed by chemotherapy and later come back, causing relapse of AML.
The team will study the gene mutations of the ‘chemo-resistant’ cells using cutting-edge ‘gene sequencing’ technology.
In identifying the ‘relapse-driving’ cells, the team hope to apply their work to the clinic where AML patients could be screened for the cells. This would make it possible to identify those ‘destined’ to relapse and provide them with treatment to counter this.
Professor Paresh Vyas, head of the team at the University of Oxford, said: “By finding the gene mutations and the ‘chemo-resistant’ cells that cause cancer relapse we can understand the very foundations of the problem. During this research we’ll be looking for new drug targets to improve treatment for those affected by cancer relapse in AML.”
The team will separate the cells that cause relapse from other blood cells using a high-tech ‘cell sorting’ machine. They will then test these cells to find the gene mutations that make them resistant to chemotherapy treatment.
Identifying patients before they relapse will allow doctors the time and foresight to give life-saving stem cell transplants, addressing the problem before it affects the patient.
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “This research will hopefully improve the outlook for patients with AML, a cancer for which there have been very few effective drugs developed in the past 30 years.”