Scientists are currently developing ground breaking new medicines which will only attack leukaemic cells reducing the debilitating side effects and sometimes long lasting impact of chemotherapy.
Cure rates for some types of Leukaemia have largely improved in recent years by treatment through optimised combinations of chemotherapy medicines. Some types of Leukaemia are eradicated in 19 out of 20 children.
However, the treatment regimes can be gruelling, caused by the medicines attacking both leukaemic and healthy tissues. The long-term consequences for patients can include impaired heart function and infertility.
The NECCR team are researching new specific therapies which attack only the leukaemic cells, reducing the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy. They are currently researching the genetic cause of cancer and are concentrating on fusion genes, which are only present in Leukaemia. These generate fusion proteins like RUNX1/ETO, the most frequent fusion protein in acute myeloid Leukaemia, and MLL/AF4, the most frequent fusion protein in infant Leukaemia, which drive the disease.
The research has found that by removing the fusion proteins the disease dies. As a result scientists at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research and Dr David Fulton from Newcastle University’s School of Medicine are developing medicines, called ‘magic bullets’ which will prevent the formation of fusion proteins, without affecting other normal proteins.