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Research projects

Understanding how bone marrow ’niches’ can help leukaemia cells to grow

Dr Delfim Duarte
Project period
Feb 2024 - Jan 2027
Research Institute
University of Porto
Cancer types
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Duarte and his team are investigating if ’niches’ in our bone marrow might help to support leukaemia cells as they grow, and if this could be a new target for leukaemia treatments.

Hope for the future

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive type of blood cancer that affects our white blood cells. New therapies are helping to improve the lives of people with AML, but unfortunately the cancer can sometimes come back after treatment.

We know that AML cells first form in the bone marrow, a spongy substance in the middle of our bones where most new blood cells are made. But we don’t really know much about how bone marrow supports leukaemia cell growth, or how cancer cells and healthy cells interact here.

So Dr Duarte and his team are using Curestarter funding to investigate this in detail. Their work will generate vital new information about how AML grows, and why it can sometimes return after treatment. They hope this information will give important insights into potential new ways to treat this aggressive cancer.


Headshot of Delfim smiling

Meet the scientist

Delfim has 3 small boys and spending time with family, playing with them, traveling and showing them the world is how he most enjoys spending his time. His kids know how “nerdy” their dad can be and they already have their own small microscope to explore nature.

The science

During this project Dr Duarte and his team will investigate the bone marrow ‘niche’. This is the region of the bone marrow that directly surrounds leukaemia cells. It is filled with many different types of cells and molecules, and it acts like a ‘home’ to cancer cells, helping to support leukaemia cells as they grow, or evade chemotherapy treatments.

The team will work to understand exactly how leukaemia cells behave in the bone marrow niche, and examine how they interact with other cells and molecules in the same area. To do this, they will use an innovative technique which involves taking real-time images of leukaemia cells in the bone marrow of mice with the disease.

Having small traces of leukaemia cells in bone marrow after treatment is linked to a higher risk of relapse for some patients, and Dr Duarte hopes that this work will help us understand more about why this is. The team’s work will also reveal vital new knowledge that could one day help these patients by opening up new approaches to treating leukaemia, and finding new ways to prevent the condition from relapsing after treatment.  

Headshot of Delfim smiling Dr Delfim Duarte
Your fantastic support will allow my team to research an unorthodox idea and is fundamental to advance our understanding of how therapy-resistant leukaemia works and how can we treat it.

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