How would you sum up your project?
T-cells are special blood cells that fight infections, particularly viruses, when you're not well. Making these special T-cells is no easy task, and whilst nature has learnt how to do this very efficiently, sometimes things go wrong – a mutation can occur in the DNA of these cells that makes them grow uncontrollably, leading to a disease known as T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL), a very aggressive form of blood cancer.
Our research has found that some of these mutations turn on certain genes at the incorrect time which not only make cells cancerous, but also resistant to chemotherapy. By identifying the key genes involved in this process, we hope to identify new therapies that can overcome chemotherapy resistance.
How will your research change the lives of people with blood cancer?
Our current understanding of cancer is that it is caused by mutations in several of our genes. However, genes only account for 2% of all our DNA: the other 98% is made up of so-called ‘junk DNA’, that previously was not thought to be involved in cancer. We recently discovered that mutations occurring in junk DNA can directly cause leukaemia, and we believe similar mutations are likely to be involved in most other cancers.
This not only explains a lot of the biology of leukaemia formation to us scientists, but also means we can monitor treatment response by following the mutations in the blood. Furthermore, new drugs are under development (such as CDK7 and BET inhibitors) that are able to target these mutations, suggesting we might be able to identify patients who are most likely to respond to these new agents.
Another of our findings that we hope can have a meaningful impact on some patients with T-ALL is an over-the-counter supplement called N-acetylcysteine that has been used safely to treat paracetamol overdose for over 40 years. We found in pre-clinical models, certain subset of T-ALLs actually respond to this drug. As a result of our study, N-acetylcysteine is being tested in children with relapsed acute leukaemia at Memorial Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York.
How important is the funding you get from Bloodwise?
We simply couldn’t do research without it. Research is incredibly expensive, and we know that it's only made possible through funding opportunities like this one. We carefully consider the costs of all of the experiments we undertake in our laboratory, and whilst most routine experiments are affordable, the more challenging and state-of-the-art techniques require considerable funds.
The money we receive enables us to push further into the unknown by giving us the opportunity to ask the most challenging questions, which we hope may provide the most valuable therapeutic insights.
Why are people like our London | Paris fundraisers so important in helping you research?
Our work is helping to explore not just the tip of the iceberg, but to finally go much deeper into understanding T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Your fundraising is helping us plan complex experiments, gather more samples and pay for vital equipment.
We have lots of creative scientists in our laboratory, with many more ideas that may help future generations. Your fundraising helps turn an idea on a piece of paper into a real project and an avenue of scientific enquiry: and enquiry which could lead to the best possible treatment for people with T-ALL.