Ground-breaking research into a cure for blood cancer

A ground-breaking treatment for blood cancer has moved a step closer thanks to pioneering research by University of Sheffield scientists.

Scientists conducting cancer research

Leading blood cancer charity Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research have awarded a £250,000 research grant to Dr Srdjan Vitovski, from the University's Medical School, in order to fund a three year project exploring treatment for myeloma.

More than 3,500 people are diagnosed with myeloma each year in the UK, and the disease is currently incurable. It is characterised by the uncontrolled spread of white blood cells in the bone marrow. New, less toxic approaches to treatment are urgently needed.

At the moment Chemotherapy or radiation remain the only available treatment options, which often only temporarily halt tumour growth, as well as producing numerous side effects.

A team of expert researchers from the University of Sheffield have shown that a natural human protein known as TRAIL, when combined with chemotherapy, can completely eradicate myeloma cells. In this new project Dr Vitovski’s team will substitute chemotherapy for another human protein known as SMAC.

As well as targeting myeloma cells while sparing healthy ones, it is hoped that the new treatment will be far more effective at killing cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are the ‘mother cells’ which limitlessly produce cancer cells. If these are not eliminated by treatment, it is almost certain that the patient will relapse.

Ground-breaking research into new treatment for blood cancerDr Vitovski said: “The normal role of the TRAIL protein in the body’s immune system is to prevent the formation and growth of tumours by causing the cancer cells to self-destruct. These characteristics make TRAIL an ideal candidate for the development of anti-cancer treatment.

“We predict that in combination with the SMAC protein we could have a highly effective and non-toxic cancer treatment. If laboratory testing is successful, we will then be able to move it on to make a real difference to patients with myeloma and other cancers.”

The team will use a range of state of the art DNA manipulation techniques to produce and purify these proteins, heightening their cancer killing potential.

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “Recent advances in our understanding of how cancer develops have highlighted the importance of cancer stem cells in explaining why current cancer treatment fails. Chemotherapy drugs are primarily designed to target and kill rapidly dividing cancer cells but cancer stem cells are much slower to multiply and so can avoid treatment.

“The development of treatments which kill cancer cells while sparing healthy cells, remains the holy grail. Dr Vitovski’s new project is an exciting part of this quest.”

Additional information

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is dedicated to saving the lives of blood cancer patients through the promotion and assistance of research into causes, diagnosis and treatment. They are committed to advancing the interests of patients and increasing public understanding of blood cancers.

Around 30,000 people of all ages, from children and teenagers to adults are diagnosed with blood cancers like leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma in the UK every year.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research receive no Government funding and rely entirely on voluntary support. In the next five years they need to raise £120 million to continue their lifesaving work. Further information, including patient information booklets, is available from beatingbloodcancers.org.uk or on 020 7405 0101.

The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.

The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Amy Pullan
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859
a.l.pullan@sheffield.ac.uk

Henry Winter
Press Officer
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research
020 7269 9019
hwinter@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk