Shutting down the power in leukaemia stem cells

Updated 31 Jan 2019
Lead researcher - Dr Vignir Helgason, University of Glasgow
Targeting mitochondrial fuel oxidation for the treatment of chronic and acute myeloid leukaemias
Amount awarded: £248,082
Award start date: 01 Nov 2018
Award duration: 3 years (36 months)

Many types of leukaemia are caused by damage to blood stem cells, which make all the different types of blood cells found in in our body. Damaged stem cells can become leukaemia stem cells, which instead of making healthy blood cells, constantly seed a steady stream of leukaemia cells. Unfortunately, these leukaemia stem cells cannot easily be killed with current treatments. This means that even if the bulk of leukaemia cells are killed off, the leukaemia stem cells remain and make more, leading to drug resistance and the leukaemia returning after treatment.

Dr Helgason and his team are researching how these leukaemia stem cells can grow and survive, especially how they break down nutrients to create energy. The team have already found a selection of drugs that could interfere with how the stem cells in chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) take up energy. They will now test these with current CML drugs, and if successful will test these in clinical trials. The team hope this will also be an effective way to kill other leukaemia stem cells, such as those found in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).