Scottish scientists’ half million pound grant for research into leukaemia and lymphoma
Scientists at the University of Glasgow have been awarded a £501,000 grant by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research for research into the genetic drivers of leukaemia and lymphoma.
Professors Ewan Cameron and James Neil are leading the specialist programme, which is investigating new ways to block a key genetic fault that helps blood cancer cells survive.
Leukaemias and lymphomas are blood cancers that affect the white blood cells that form an important part of our immune system. Together, approximately 20,000 new cases are expected in the UK each year.
The scientists are studying a family of genes – called ‘RUNX’ – that go awry in many types of blood cancer. This means that a wide range of traditionally distinct cancers could benefit from the research, including leukaemia and lymphoma but also some breast and head and neck cancers.
RUNX proteins control the level of activation of other genes, particularly those responsible for blood cell development. By studying cancer cells in the lab and then mice with the particular fault, the researchers will look at all the other signals that the RUNX proteins interact with to work out the effect of abnormal RUNX on the whole network and how this leads to cancer. They will also identify how different genes can drive cancers in different people, informing personalised approaches to treatment.
The work is the continuation of a long-standing programme of research jointly supported by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and Cancer Research UK.
Ewan Cameron, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Oncology at the School of Veterinary Medicine, said: “Changes involving the RUNX1 gene are amongst the most common single event in acute leukaemia, but the ways in which these changes result in healthy cells becoming cancerous remains poorly understood.
“The RUNX1 gene is known to regulate normal blood cell development but available evidence suggests it also has a crucial role in maintaining leukaemia and may help to resist treatment. Our work suggests that certain blood cancers may be dependent on the RUNX proteins to develop and the major objective is to understand this process better.
“We now want to use this knowledge to develop new drugs that can block these genes, so that we can expand the therapeutic options for these hard to treat cancers.”
Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “This work will help us gain a better understanding of the genetic basis of the disease process and this should lead to the development of new types of precision treatment and disease management. Improved treatments tailored to counteract the effects of specific mutations should be safer, more effective at combating the disease and reduce the chance of relapse in patients.”