GCU scientist brings cutting-edge leukaemia research to the UK

08 February 2018

Dr Mark Williams

Dr Mark Williams

Scientists from Glasgow are to import a cutting-edge research technique from the US in a bid to increase survival rates in patients diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

A 3D model system which recreates how leukaemic cells interact with bone marrow could help make chemotherapy more effective for adults with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

AML develops rapidly and chemo is used to kill as many leukaemia cells as possible. However, some cells can cluster together and become resistant to treatment.

Dr Mark Williams, lecturer in cell and molecular biology at Glasgow Caledonian University, is leading an academic-industry partnership that has been awarded a £10,000 grant by the British Society for Haematology to bring a new form of testing to the UK.

The process has been developed by Dr Monica Guzman, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology in Medicine at Cornell University in New York, one of the world's foremost experts in therapeutic targeting of leukaemia stem cells.

Dr Williams said: "Chemotherapy resistance is a major contributing factor to inferior survival in AML.

"The importance of the bone marrow environment in the development of AML is now becoming more apparent.

"The 3D model system reflects the ability of leukaemic cells to interact with the bone marrow and recreates their ability to form niches, which can offer protection from chemotherapy.

"Understanding how these cells behave is crucial, not only to drive the development of new drugs but also to repurpose existing ones to enhance survival rates."

Acute myeloid leukaemia mortality rates have increased by 84% since the early 1970s, according to Cancer Research UK, with 2516 deaths recorded in the UK in 2014.

Dr Guzman, who will provide training in her laboratory at Weill Cornell Medical College to facilitate the transfer of the model system, said: "We are very excited to hear about the news of the grant and look forward to working with Mark and the team from Glasgow to help them implement the novel 3D model system to the UK."

The Glasgow team were successful in an application to the British Society for Haematology for an Early-Stage Research Start-up Grant.

Initially, the system will use cell lines derived from adult patients.

The model will be further optimised via collaborations with leading blood cancer researchers, Dr Helen Wheadon and Professor Mhairi Copland, of the University of Glasgow’s Paul O'Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre.