Cardiff University has been recognised for its world-class research into the two most common forms of leukaemia in adults – chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia. We currently have £3.2 million invested here, across six projects and two programmes.
Cardiff has been recognised for its world-class research into the two most common forms of leukaemia in adults – chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which together affect more than 6,000 people in the UK every year.
Over recent years Cardiff has emerged as a key player for driving research into better treatments and cures for leukaemia patients in South Wales and across the UK. Our researchers in Cardiff work closely with doctors at the local University Hospital of Wales, to ensure any new drugs and improvements in diagnosis benefit patients as soon as possible.
New tests for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
Our researchers at Cardiff University, led by Professor Duncan Baird, have developed a quick and cheap genetic test to predict how aggressive a person’s CLL is likely to be. The test is the most reliable to date and may one day soon help doctors decide whether a patient needs treatment straightaway or whether treatment can be put on hold. It means that the type and timing of treatment can be personalised, and patients won’t have to endure harsh treatments unnecessarily.
It could also have an important psychological benefit for patients who have just been told they have cancer, especially those who don’t need immediate treatment, and allow them to more confidently plan their lives and immediate futures.
The biology of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
A major research programme in Cardiff, run by Professor Chris Pepper, is exploring how CLL cells survive and grow, and eventually become resistant to drugs – a key step in seeking out new drug targets. By understanding what makes these cells ‘tick’, they aim to design better drugs that will be able to target the cancer cells. This should reduce the side effects currently associated with treatments, and so make a big difference to the patients and their families.
Cardiff scientists, led by Dr Elisabeth Walsby, have also created an innovative way to study CLL. The unique laboratory system mimics the different cells and physical forces found in the body, providing a highly realistic environment in which scientists can study leukaemia cell behaviour and test new drugs. Results from this project are expected soon.
How acute myeloid leukaemia starts
Professor Richard Darley and Dr Alex Tonks at are studying the genetic abnormalities that can impair the normal development of white blood cells. These genetic faults can cause immature blood cells to grow out of control, leading to acute myeloid leukaemia. By homing in on the precise faults in the cell’s machinery, they are seeking to improve AML therapy by designing a suite of drugs to hit the disease’s 'Achilles’ heel'.
Trialling new treatments for leukaemia patients
A major clinical trial being run at the university is testing new drugs for the treatment of AML in elderly patients. The majority of AML patients are diagnosed when they're over 60, but many are too frail or have other health problems that mean they can't withstand the current harsh chemotherapy. This trial is looking at how new drugs can be safely combined with existing drugs to improve the survival chances for these patients.
Dr Steve Knapper is trialling a new targeted drug, tefinostat, for chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia – a rare form of blood and bone marrow cancer that affects around 450 people in the UK each year. There are currently very few treatment options and over half of patients die within two years of diagnosis.