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Developing more effective and safer treatments for childhood leukaemia

We need to continue to develop treatments for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Prof Tariq Enver and his team are learning more about the biology of childhood ALL, and why it sometimes comes back after treatment. This work could ensure that everyone gets treatments tailored for them, to give them the best chance of a cure.

The challenge

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common cancer affecting children. Survival from childhood ALL has improved dramatically over the last few decades. However, around 20% of children diagnosed will still die from the disease, particularly if it comes back after treatment. What’s more, side-effects from treatment can have a long-term effect on quality of life, well into adulthood. We need to develop better ways to treat childhood ALL, to stop the cancer coming back and improve everyone’s chances of survival.

The project

Prof Tariq Enver and his team are focusing on a common form of the disease in which the cancer cells carry a mutation called TEL AML1. In earlier research funded by Blood Cancer UK, they made some important discoveries about the biology of childhood ALL. One of the discoveries they have made is that the leukaemia cells in a person’s body are not all the same. This means that some of the leukaemia cells might be resistant to current treatments, which could lead to the cancer coming back later. Prof Enver and his team will continue their work with support from Blood Cancer UK. They will conduct experiments using ALL cells grown in the lab and in mice, and samples donated by children with ALL. They hope to learn more about how the leukaemia cells in childhood ALL differ, and why this variability occurs. The team also plan to study how ALL begins in the first place, and identify new potential treatments for the disease.

The future

Prof Enver’s research will help us understand why not all children with ALL are cured by current therapies. This could lead to new ways to treat ALL and control the disease if it returns. Ultimately, this research could ensure that one day, every child with ALL gets treatments tailored to them, to give them the best possible chance of survival and a good quality of life.