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Why do CLL cells behave differently in different parts of the body?

Sometimes CLL can move from the bloodstream into the lymph nodes where the disease become much harder to treat. Professor Chris Pepper wants to understand how CLL cells change when they enter the lymph nodes to find new ways to treat the disease.

The challenge

In chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), some cancer cells can ‘escape’ from the bloodstream into the lymph nodes, where they behave differently and become harder to treat. However, it’s not clear if CLL cells behave differently in the lymph nodes because they are genetically different from those that remain in the bloodstream, or if something happens during the ‘escape’ that causes this behaviour change.

The project

Professor Chris Pepper’s team has created a model of this process of CLL ‘escaping’ to the lymph nodes in the lab. They will use this to investigate what changes happen in the CLL cells as they move from bloodstream to lymph nodes, whether some cells are more able to make this move than others, and how the effects of CLL drugs are different in the bloodstream and the lymph node.

The future

Even though enormous strides have been made in the treatment of CLL, it remains incurable with current drugs. Because the CLL cells that end up in the lymph nodes grow quickly and resist treatment, a better understanding of how and why these cells behave the way they do may lead to improved treatments or even a cure.