Leukaemia – reversing drug resistance if the cancer comes back
|Project Leader||Dr F W van Delft, MD PhD FRCPCH|
|Location||Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre, Newcastle University|
|Grant awarded||30 July 2018|
|Provisional start date||1 November 2018|
|Provisional end date||31 October 2021|
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Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a type of blood cancer that usually develops quickly over days or weeks. It is the most common cancer in children and young people with around 500 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK in people aged 19 years or younger. Almost a third of cases occur in children aged 4 years or younger. Between 70 and 100 of these children are diagnosed with a disease subtype called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL). Although the majority of young patients with T-ALL are cured with chemotherapy, sadly in around 20 per cent, the cancer eventually comes back (relapsed childhood T-ALL) and is then almost impossible to cure with currently available treatment, including bone marrow transplantation, as the leukaemia has become drug resistant. These researchers have identified a gene which plays an important role in the growth and survival of T-ALL cells. In laboratory studies, they found that blocking this gene with two drugs already used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, caused the T-ALL cells to die and reversed drug resistance.
The research project
In order to confirm their initial findings that these two drugs given together kill T-ALL cells, the researchers now plan to test their effects in a mouse model of human T-ALL. They will compare the effects of placebo treatment with those of the two drugs given either separately or in combination, on the growth and survival of human cancer cells in the mouse model. After treatment, the team will look at the number of leukaemia cells in the animals' bone marrow, blood, spleen and brain. They expect to find that combined drug treatment leads to the lowest number of leukaemia cells. The researchers will also examine the leukaemia cells in detail looking for biomarkers that predict how they will respond to drug treatment, and mechanisms explaining the combined effect of the drugs in the cells. If they are able to demonstrate the efficacy of their new approach, the team will propose that these drugs should be included in the treatment of relapsed childhood T-ALL to improve the outcome of these children for whom no other treatments exist.