Chief Executive, Leukaemia UK
Accelerating progress in leukaemia diagnosis, treatment, care and research has the power to both save and improve lives.
Leukaemia is a difficult disease to treat. It occurs when white blood cells develop in an uncontrolled way, dramatically reducing their ability to fight infection, but there is hope.
Acute leukaemias are fast developing and particularly hard to treat. Current treatments for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) are incredibly harsh on the body, and the five-year survival rate is still devastatingly low. Stem cell transplantation is a life-saving treatment and is currently one of the only effective options available. Yet, patients will often relapse following a stem cell transplant.
Preventing leukaemia relapse
Dr Pramila Krishnamurthy is researching how relapse can be prevented through exploring the possibility of using immune cells from the stem cell donor and giving these to the patient after their original transplant. She says: “When patients relapse or fail to respond to treatment, it’s heart-breaking – especially when we only have limited treatment options in this scenario.”
Dr Krishnamurthy’s research may be able to help correct a patient’s immune response, eliminating the remaining leukaemia cells and preventing relapse.
Stem cell transplantation is a life-saving treatment and is currently one of the only effective options available.
Developing new treatment methods
Encouragingly, research breakthroughs are happening all the time. Some of these include completely new ways of treating leukaemia, like Dr Konstantinos Tzelepis’ important discovery during his Leukaemia UK John Goldman Fellowship in 2021.
Looking at a particular protein, METTL3, and its role in how leukaemia cells develop, Dr Tzelepis investigated whether inhibiting the action of one particular protein could eliminate leukaemia – with minimal side effects. In doing so, Dr Tzelepis and his group at the University of Cambridge identified a new targeted drug with the potential to treat AML.
Dr Tzelepis says, “This is the result of many years of research and could mean the beginning of a new era for cancer therapeutics. We are at an exciting stage with clinical trials about to begin. The first AML patients to access the drug will be adults who haven’t responded well to current treatment options such as chemotherapy. If the results are as expected, we also hope the drug will offer an important treatment option for childhood AML.”
New hope for the future of treatment
Dr Tzelepis’ breakthrough has the potential to provide a vital new treatment option for AML patients. Leukaemia UK is funding work like this to bring hope for kinder and more effective treatments to those who receive this diagnosis and crucially, to stop leukaemia from devastating lives.