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Finding the weakness in AML’s armour

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia currently which can cause harsh side effects. Professor Richard Darley is trying to find a way to create more targeted therapies with fewer side effects, to improve the quality of life for people with the disease.

The challenge

There are many different groups (subtypes) of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which can make treating the disease very difficult because each type can behave in a different way, depending on the genetic make-up of the disease. Chemotherapy is the main treatment for AML, but there are also drugs that target the specific gene make-up of AML cells. Although targeted therapies are important, it’s thought that they will only make a small difference, because each drug is targeting cells with specific genetic make-up found only in a small percentage of people.

The project

They have already identified specific proteins released by bacteria, which cause infections to send ‘survival signals’ to cancer cells, telling them to grow more quickly. The team are now carrying out experiments in the laboratory to study how these bacterial infections alter the behaviour of patients’ cancer cells, and will test whether existing drugs can prevent this from happening.

The future

If it’s possible to destroy AML cells by targeting how they use ROS to survive, new treatments could be made that interfere with this process. These treatments could work across the difference subtypes of AML and may have fewer side effects than, improving the quality of life for people with AML.