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2017 Bloodwise research highlights

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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22 Dec 2017

​To finish off 2017, here are the highlights of Bloodwise-funded research: from the use of genetics to predict how well myeloma and MDS will respond to treatment; to potential treatment for graft-versus-host disease.

Understanding why blood cancer happens

Red blood cells

Red blood cells, which Professor Boultwood and Dr Pellagatti’s research could help to return to healthy levels in people with MDS. Credit: Egelberg, DHM image of human red blood cells, CC BY-SA 3.0

Professor Jacqueline Boultwood and Dr Andrea Pellagatti at the University of Oxford found a fault in a gene called U2AF1 that can lead to the development of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) (read more about Professor Boultwood and Dr Pellagatti's work). By correcting the level of the faulty gene products, research suggests that normal red blood cell production could be rescued in people with MDS who have U2AF1 gene changes. Although this is early work, it opens up the prospect of using drugs that target this process as a potential treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes.

Changes to genes that are involved in the immune system may make people more susceptible to Hodgkin lymphoma, according to a team led by Professor Richard Houlston at the Institute of Cancer Research in London. These findings offer important genetic clues for understanding both lymphoma and autoimmune diseases better. Read more about Professor Houlston's findings.

Advances in tailoring treatment to the individual

At Cardiff University, a team led by Professor Duncan Baird have been conducting research on a piece of DNA called a telomere, which functions like a ‘cap’ on a DNA chromosome, preventing damage from happening to the rest of the DNA. They have found that the length of these telomeres, which varies from person to person, can predict how disease will progress in people with myeloma and MDS. This finding could improve how doctors determine what level of treatment to provide for each person with these blood cancers. Read more about Professor Baird and his team's findings.

The RAvVA trial, led by Professor Charles Craddock at the University of Birmingham and run across the UK, has identified a role for faults in genes called CDKN2A, IDH1 and TP53 in MDS and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). These faults are associated with lower likelihood of survival, but screening for them at diagnosis could help doctors adapt treatments so that each person with AML or MDS is getting treatment appropriate for their specific cancer. Find out more about the RAvVa trial.

A team of researchers led by Professors Christine Harrison and Anthony Moorman at Newcastle University have shown that current methods used to determine the correct level of chemotherapy required for each child with leukaemia may be improved by looking at the genetic make-up of their cancer cells. This study, funded jointly by Bloodwise and Children with Cancer UK, has already led to changes to treatment tailoring for newly diagnosed children. Read more about Professors Harrison and Moorman's study.

Making it easier to live with chronic blood cancers

Results from the DESTINY clinical trial show that people who are doing really well on TKIs, the standard drug treatment for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), may be able to reduce or stop treatment if carefully monitored by their doctors. These findings from the DESTINY team, led by Professor Richard Clark at the University of Liverpool, means that people with CML may be able to reduce side effects while still effectively treating their disease.

Possible new treatment avenues for blood cancers

A scientist dips some acetate into green liquid
 

Monoclonal antibodies (on slides), which Dr Beers and Professor Cragg’s research could help make a more effective treatment for lymphoma. Credit: Linda Bartlett, Monoclonal antibodies, Public domain

At the University of Southampton, Dr Stephen Beers and Professor Mark Cragg have found  a possible way to overcome drug resistance to monoclonal antibodies, such as rituximab, in people being treated for lymphoma. By adding an immune-boosting drug called a STING agonist to the standard treatment, they were able to reverse the drug resistance and eradicate lymphoma cells in mice. For people with lymphoma, this may open up a new way to make antibody treatments much more effective than they already are. Read more about Dr Beers and Professor Cragg's work.

Early results from the UK-wide CLARITY trial, led by Professor Peter Hillmen at St James’s University Hospital, Leeds, became available. CLARITY is testing a combination of the targeted drugs venetoclax and ibrutinib as a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). So far everyone taking part in the trial has responded to this combination, with nearly half of them in complete remission – an even better result than was expected.

Professors Vaskar Saha and Peter Stern (University of Manchester) found a protein called 5T4 on the surface of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) cells that contributes to making this type of cancer resistant to chemotherapy. Using a novel approach, their early testing shows they have found a possible way to target the protein that makes the cells more responsive to chemotherapy. This means that it may be possible to selectively attack the cells that are causing chemoresistance, providing a potential new way to treat children whose ALL does not respond to current treatments. Read more about Professors Saha and Stern's research.

Effectively treating graft-versus-host disease

A human mesenchymal stem cell

A human mesenchymal stem cell like those used in Professor Dazzi and Dr Galleu’s research, which could help treat graft-versus-host disease. Credit: BioTek Instruments, Inc., BioTek-Wikipedia-Image, CC BY-SA 3.0

Professor Francesco Dazzi and Dr Antonio Galleu at King’s College London discovered that an infusion of dead mesenchymal stem cells could be an effective treatment for graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), a common and often deadly complication of stem cell transplants. Although this is early work, and still needs to be tested in clinical trials, it could mean that more people will be able to undergo a stem cell transplant. Find out more about this breakthrough in treating GvHD.

Helping researchers share information more effectively

Two scientists pictured in a laboratory

Providing new ways for researchers to share information helps collaboration and innovation in treatments for blood cancer.

The LEUKomics database was launched as a joint venture between the late Professor Tessa Holyoake at the University of Glasgow and Professor Christine Wells of the University of Melbourne. Biological samples from people with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) are deposited in the database from researchers around the world, which can be shared with other researchers. Pooling this rich information and sharing it worldwide could help speed up the process of finding better treatments and eventually cures for leukaemias. Read more about the launch of LEUKomics.

Thank you to all our researchers for their hard work, and to the people who’ve taken part in clinical trials and donated blood so that this research can happen - and thank you to our supporters for making all this possible. We’re looking forward to seeing what new advances our researchers will make in 2018!