Scientists at Cardiff University have been awarded £216,500 by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to investigate mutations that cause the development of leukaemia.
Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is a cancer in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, causing a range of problems with the immune system. It develops slowly, often over many years and while it is treatable, it remains incurable.
The Cardiff team, led by Dr Duncan Baird and Dr Chris Pepper, have discovered that testing for damage at the ends of chromosomes in CLL cells is an accurate predictor of the progression of the patient’s leukaemia.
The scientists hope that by studying the DNA damage within leukaemia cells further, they will be able to find ways to slow down the progression of CLL in patients. They have already discovered that ‘telomeres’, the caps on the end of chromosomes which protect them during cell division, are gradually shortened as the CLL progresses. When the telomeres become completely dysfunctional in the CLL cells, they can fuse together during cell division, making the cells even more malignant and accelerating the cancer in the blood.
Dr Baird, of the University’s School of Medicine, said, “Using CLL cells and the latest technology which allows us to detect tiny amounts of DNA, we will map exactly the link between chromosome damage and each stage of the cancer. The ultimate goal is to find ways to interfere with the process and develop drugs to actually stop the leukaemia progressing.”
Around 3,300 people are diagnosed with CLL in the UK every year. It is predominantly a blood cancer of later life, with most people diagnosed with CLL over 65 years old.
Cardiff University was named a ‘Centre of Excellence’ by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. The charity is currently investing £2 million into vital blood cancer research at the University.