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15 November 2011
University scientists have been awarded £216,500 by the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to investigate mutations that cause the development of leukaemia.
Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is a cancer in which the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, causing a range of problems with the immune system. It develops slowly, often over many years and while it is treatable, it remains incurable.
The Cardiff team, led by Dr Duncan Baird and Dr Chris Pepper, have discovered that testing for damage at the ends of chromosomes in CLL cells is an accurate predictor of the progression of the patient’s leukaemia.
The scientists hope that by studying the DNA damage within leukaemia cells further, they will be able to find ways to slow down the progression of CLL in patients. They have already discovered that ‘telomeres’, the caps on the end of chromosomes which protect them during cell division, are gradually shortened as the CLL progresses. When the telomeres become completely dysfunctional in the CLL cells, they can fuse together during cell division, making the cells even more malignant and accelerating the cancer in the blood.
Dr Baird said, "Using CLL cells and the latest technology which allows us to detect tiny amounts of DNA, we will map exactly the link between chromosome damage and each stage of the cancer. The ultimate goal is to find ways to interfere with the process and develop drugs to actually stop the leukaemia progressing."
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: "We are very excited to be funding this project at Cardiff University, which is a world-class research facility. CLL is the most common leukaemia in the UK but it is still incurable. However, many successful treatments have been developed for cancer in recent years which can slow down its development and keep it under control. We have high hopes that this research will contribute to this progress."
Around 3,300 people are diagnosed with CLL in the UK every year. It is predominantly a blood cancer of later life, with most people diagnosed with CLL over 65 years old.
Cardiff University was named a ‘Centre of Excellence’ by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. The charity is currently investing £2 million into vital blood cancer research at the University.
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