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Flipping the switch on cancer cell death

  • Researcher: Dr Brian Huntly
  • Institution: University of Cambridge, England
  • Award Amount: £210,032 for 3 years from September 2014
  • Cancer Type: Leukaemia
Flipping the switch on cancer cell death
Dr Huntly and his team are using Worldwide Cancer Research funding to understand more about the blood cancer acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). He will investigate how two specific proteins may interact with and modulate HOXA9, a protein known to drive around half of all AML cases.

Around 34% of patients diagnosed with leukaemia in the UK have AML, yet there are few effective treatment options available. This is partly because many different cell DNA mutations are linked with AML, and it is hard for scientists to develop treatments that effectively target them all.

HOXA9 represents a single piece in the puzzle, linking a number of AML-triggering DNA mutations with ultimate development of the disease. HOXA9 expression is also linked to aggressive disease. However, scientists still do not know exactly how this happens.

Dr Huntly wants to find out how two proteins that his team have demonstrated to physically bind to HOXA9, and which seem to modulate leukaemia cell growth in the lab, could be involved in the process. He will use a three-pronged approach to study this problem. First he will look at how these proteins behave together at a molecular level, before then using cell-based models and mice to study how they may interact in leukaemia.

"If this research is successful," says Dr Huntly, "it will set the scene for targeting the interactions between these three proteins, as a much needed potential novel therapeutic in AML."
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