Switching off the genes that cause leukaemia

Lead researcher - Professor Richard Jenner, University College London
Role of enhancer RNAs in oncogene transcription in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL)
Amount awarded: £210,910
Award start date: 01 Nov 2018
Award duration: 3 years (36 months)

In acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the growth of cancer cells happens because cancer-causing genes get ‘switched on’.

Professor Jenner and his team have discovered that in a type of leukaemia called T-ALL, changes to DNA are often found next to cancer causing genes. Although these changes do not alter the gene itself, instead they acts as switches, permanently keeping the cancer causing genes switched on. These gene switches, or ‘enhancers’ are also found in healthy cells, and help genes do their job by switching them on at the right time.

The team are now exploring whether the enhancer ‘switch’ works in the same way in ALL as it does in healthy cells, which could reveal new ways to target and kill ALL cells.