Find out more about our research to develop new treatments for leukaemia.
Leukaemia is an aggressive from of blood cancer that arises in the bone marrow and is characterised by an uncontrolled generation of abnormal white blood cells, the part of the immune system which defends the body against infection. These abnormal cells accumulate in the bone marrow and prevent the production of normal blood cells.
Early symptoms of the disease include easy bruising and excessive bleeding. Similarly, a lack of mature immune cells means that the body’s defence against infections is compromised, and cold and flu symptoms are frequently observed. There are different types of leukaemia which all require very specific treatments.
Blood is a complex tissue made up of red and white blood cells that are essential for many normal functions of an organism (e.g. oxygen supply, fighting infections, wound healing, blood clotting). Life-long production of all blood cells is maintained by a small number of blood stem cells that reside in the bone marrow.
Blood formation is a step-wise and tightly controlled process during which blood stem cells first give rise to different immature blood cells that eventually produce all mature blood cells. Under pathological conditions, blood stem cells or immature cells slip out of control and become cancer stem cell that give rise to blood cancers.
Work at CRM
Prof Alexander Medvinsky research group
Prof Alexander Medvinsky works on the development of haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Together with his team, he investigates how HSCs develop in the embryo and how the composition of their surrounding environment affects them. By identifying individual components, he has developed a technology to grow these cells in a dish and analyse how they interact with each other. This work will aid in the generation of HSCs from embryonic stem cells, which can then be used for clinical transplants that are commonly used to treat blood cancers and many other diseases.
Prof Lesley Forrester research group
Prof Lesley Forrester also works on the generation of blood cell lineages from embryonic stem cells. One of her aims is to find a reliable technology to turn HSCs into immune cells (macrophages) and red blood cells. In the long-term, this knowledge will contribute to the manufacturing of cultured blood, which can be used in a therapeutic setting, and has the potential to make clinics independent of blood donations.
Prof Clare Blackburn research group
Prof Clare Blackburn and her team have focused their work on the thymus, the organ that produces immune cells. Having identified the stem cells that are responsible for thymus formation in the developing embryo, she now aims to develop technologies to produce these cells in a dish. This is of particular interest with regards to the treatment of leukaemia, as the resetting of the immune system by chemotherapy is dependent on thymus activity and its provision of healthy immune cells.
Dr Katrin Ottersbach research group
Dr Katrin Ottersbach studies a type of infant leukaemia with a particularly poor prognosis that is known to arise before birth. By looking at the prenatal development of the blood system her group aims to identify and study the target cell in which the presence of the mutation causes changes in cell behaviour that lead to the development of leukaemia. More information about the target cell may result in more effective treatments of this disease.
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