Finding the weakness in AML’s armour

Lead researcher - Professor Richard Darley, Cardiff University
Targets for Treatment in AML: Targeting the ROS axis
Amount awarded: £847,557
Award start date: 20 Sep 2015
Award duration: 3 years, 7 months (43 months)

There are many different groups (subtypes) of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which are mainly grouped according to what genetic changes are present within the AML cells. Because there are so many different subtypes of AML, this can make treating the disease very difficult because each type of AML will behave in a different way.

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for AML, but there are also drugs that target specific gene changes found in the AML cells. Although having new targeted therapies for AML is great, it’s predicted that they will only make a marginal difference, because each drug is targeting a specific gene change which is found in a small percentage of people.

Professor Darley and his team at Cardiff University have identified one flaw that is common in the majority of cases of AML, which is the overproduction of an unstable substance called a ‘reactive oxygen species’ (ROS). ROS easily reacts with other molecules in a cell, and build up can cause damage to DNA and proteins, causing the cell to die. Although a build up of ROS causes damage to healthy blood cells, AML cells have developed resistance to them and actually depend on ROS to grow.

Professor Darley and his team are looking for ways to reduce ROS to prevent AML cell growth, as well as working on making AML cells more sensitive to ROS. Using drugs that cause these effects have fewer side effects than chemotherapy, and offer a completely new treatment avenue.