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Shutting down the power in leukaemia stem cells

Leukaemia stem cells can be responsible for chronic myeloid leukaemia returning or developing resistance to treatment. Dr Vignir Helgason wants to find a way to destroy these stem cells, giving people the best possible chance of survival.

The challenge

Many types of leukaemia are caused by damage to blood stem cells, which make all the different types of blood cells found in in our body. Damaged stem cells can become leukaemia stem cells, which instead of making healthy blood cells, constantly seed a steady stream of leukaemia cells. Unfortunately, these leukaemia stem cells cannot easily be killed with current treatments which can lead to drug resistance and the leukaemia returning after treatment.

The project

Dr Vignir Helgason and his team are trying to understand how these leukaemia stem cells can grow and survive. They are looking at how these cells produce the energy they need to survive. The team have already found a selection of drugs that could interfere with how the stem cells in chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) produce energy and they will now test these with other drugs used to treat CML in cells in the lab and in mouse models of CML. The team hope this will also be an effective way to kill other leukaemia stem cells, such as those found in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

The future

If these treatments are shown to be successful at destroying leukaemia stem cells, this could lead to the development of clinical trials. Ultimately, if new treatments are found, this could improve the chances of survival in people with CML.