Research at Newcastle University is looking for ways to improve the outcomes of people with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) by matching the treatment to the individual. We are also testing to see if using cytokines could be effective in treating people with Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD) who are no longer responding to conventional treatment. And we are creating a detailed picture of what starts and drives leukaemia, and which genes can be targeted by treatments.
One of the most aggressive blood cancers is AML, and it is often fatal within a year of diagnosis. People are with AML are usually given chemotherapy. But this treatment approach is not suitable for everyone. AML mainly affects the elderly, so many are unable to tolerate standard chemotherapy because they are too frail, or have other underlying conditions. And although chemotherapy can work well for many people, others will unfortunately see their AML return after treatment, and stem cell transplant is the only other option. Dr James Allan wants to develop new treatment options for people AML by matching existing therapies to the individual person so treatment has more success. The team will identify gene changes that influence clinical outcome, treatment resistance, and relapse, and will find ways to sensitise leukaemia cells to therapy. This ‘stratified medicine’ approach will improve risk prediction, identify potential new ways to target AML, and will find ways to reduce the chance of relapse.
A complication that can arise from stem cell transplants is Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD), which in severe cases can cause extensive tissue and organ damage. People who have GvHD are usually given drugs that suppress the immune system. But this course of treatment does not always work for everyone, so researchers are looking for new ways to treat GvHD. Professor Matthew Collin and his team want to see if using cytokines can help people with GvHD. Cytokines are groups of proteins that act as cell signalling molecules, allowing cells to communicate with each other when generating immune responses. IL-22 is a cytokine that is produced by immune cells in inflamed tissues, and may offer protection and help repair tissue damage caused by the immune response. The team will investigate if IL-22 could have a therapeutic use for people with GVHD.
One of our major childhood leukaemia projects are based at Newcastle University. Led by Professors Christine Harrison and Anthony Moorman, The Leukaemia Research Cytogenetics Group Specialist Programme is collaborating with scientists in the UK and across the globe to identify the genetic faults that drive leukaemia and cause treatment resistance.
In cancer, rearrangements occur between and within chromosomes, which contain tightly packed DNA. Cytogenetics looks at these changes in chromosomes, which can not only indicate the type of leukaemia someone has, but can also be used to predict the outcome of disease. Over the last 20 years, the group has established a cytogenetics resource for acute leukaemia (ALL and AML) that is now renowned as one of the best leukaemia genetics research resources in the world, and their work has transformed the way we treat children with leukaemia in the UK and beyond. The work of the laboratory contributes significantly to continuous improvement of the management of childhood leukaemia by improving how we diagnose leukaemia, predict response to treatments, detect when blood cancer is in remission or returning.