BCI researchers are lead members of an international team to be funded by an Accelerator Award, which will bring together scientists from the UK, Spain and Italy in a bid to improve early detection and intervention of blood cancers. The award of £4.8M over 5 years, funded through a partnership between Cancer Research UK (CRUK), AIRC and FC AECC, encourages cross-institutional collaboration to unite resources and expertise to accelerate progress in cancer research.
The Accelerator Award, led by Prof Jesus San Miguel, Director of Clinical and Translational Medicine at the University of Navarra, Spain, will support research into three types of blood cancer: follicular lymphoma, multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukaemia, with each country acting as a specialist hub (across 13 centres) for one of these diseases. The three cancer types share similar features of progression, and the team hope to develop integrative models of how they evolve from a pre-malignant (or minimal residual disease) stage to malignant disease, and how best to target these cancers at their most vulnerable.
BCI’s Prof Jude Fitzgibbon, Professor of Personalised Cancer Medicine in the Centre for Haemato-Oncology, will lead the UK group, which comprises researchers from the BCI (including Dr Jessica Okosun, Dr Jun Wang, Prof Trevor Graham and Dr Kevin Rouault-Pierre), and researchers from the Francis Crick Institute (led by Dr Dinis Calado), the CRUK Cambridge Centre (led by Prof Brian Huntly) and the University of Leeds (led by Dr Roger Owen).
Prof San Miguel, the lead investigator for the Accelerator Award, is a world-leader in multiple myeloma. Prof Mario Cazzola, an expert in acute myeloid leukaemia, will lead the team in Italy.
Changing the paradigm of blood cancer treatment
Blood cancers are collectively the third largest cause of cancer mortality in the UK, claiming more lives than breast or prostate cancer. In order to advance early detection and treatment of blood cancers, the team endeavour to develop tools to detect, purify and characterise cells at the premalignant and minimal residual disease stages.
By broadening the understanding of these areas and developing the tools to better examine these cells, the team hope that their work will facilitate the identification more efficacious therapies.
Premalignant cells have an increased risk of developing into cancerous cells. The team will study the genetic changes that occur in these cells that drive them towards malignancy, with the hope of identifying alterations that can be blocked to prevent malignant transformation.
Some cancer cells can remain in the body during treatment or after a patient is in remission. These cells, known as the minimal residual disease, are responsible for the recurrent nature of blood cancers. Identifying the cues that push these cells to trigger recurrence could highlight novel ways to prevent relapse.
The team will create pre-clinical models to track the changes that occur in these two cell types, which may then be used by researchers world-wide to drive the development of new treatments.
Prof San Miguel said: “We hope that by the end of the award we will have generated international guidelines such as for early intervention programs and created an international working group focusing on this area that will change the paradigm of treating haematological malignancies.”