Research projects

Identifying new treatments for infant leukaemia

Professor Katrin Ottersbach
Project period
May 2023 - Oct 2025
Research Institute
University of Edinburgh
Cancer types
Childhood cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Katrin Ottersbach aims to better understand how particular genes are involved in the development of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in infants. By doing so, she hopes to discover new and potentially lifesaving cures.

Hope for the future

Infant leukaemia is very difficult to treat, and researchers have struggled for decades to find new cures for this devastating disease. Infants with leukaemia are generally given the same therapies as older children or adults, but infants do not respond as well to treatment.

Research has recently shown that infant leukaemia has a unique biology, different to leukaemia in older children or adults, meaning it needs to be treated with different cures. Professor Ottersbach plans to find out more about these differences in order to identify better, kinder treatments for infant patients with leukaemia.

Cancer researcher Dr Giusi Camiolo in Professor Katrin Ottersbach's lab

Meet the scientist

Professor Ottersbach’s kids keep her quite busy but when she has a spare moment, she likes playing the violin and foraging for food. She particularly loves forest walks or just sitting in the sun on the bench outside her house with a good book and a cup of coffee.

The science

Infant leukaemia actually develops before birth, in foetal blood cells. Researchers believe this is why infant leukaemia is particularly aggressive, since foetal blood cells can multiply faster than adult blood cells and they have other distinct properties which help support cancer growth.


Professor Katrin Ottersbach and her team at the University of Edinburgh have identified two genes that are involved in the most common type of infant leukaemia, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Both of these genes, SGMS1 and ELOVL1, are involved in regulating the fat content of cells, suggesting that infant leukaemia cells have specific fat requirements that are important to keep them alive. Maybe if you can stop the cancer cells getting the fat they need, you can potentially stop the cancer from growing.


The researchers want to understand how SGMS1 and ELOVL1 influence cancer development. They have an exciting new technique to study several biological pathways at the same time and work out which are involved. They then plan to test any potential cures that take advantage of these pathways so that they can find the treatments most likely to work best for infant leukaemia.

Katrin Ottersbach
The treatment of infant leukaemia has not improved for decades and is therefore in urgent need of new approaches. I am hoping our research will reveal new vulnerabilities of infant leukaemia and therefore new ways of treating it.

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