Scientists from Glasgow and Liverpool are joining forces to improve the effectiveness of a drug used to treat a form of leukaemia, chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), which affects 750 people in the UK each year.
The scientists from the Universities of Glasgow and Liverpool have been awarded £280,000 by the Leukaemia Research Fund to carry out a study to understand why some patients are becoming resistant to the drug.
Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) starts with a genetic change in a single blood stem cell, cells that are responsible for creating all of the body's blood cells. A promising drug called Glivec was developed recently to target the specific genetic abnormality only found in CML cells.
'This new drug is the frontline treatment for CML patients in the UK and it is effective in killing the rapidly dividing cancer cells in the bone marrow. It has changed the face of treatment for many patients because there are very few side effects associated with the drug, unlike many of the treatments that were previously available,' explains Professor of Cancer Science and Molecular Pathology Tessa Holyoake at the University of Glasgow.
'However, we are concerned that it may not be able to kill all of the CML cells that remain in the blood/bone marrow. We know that proteins found in the membrane of the leukaemia cell can affect how much of the drug gets into the cell, and how much is transported out,' she adds.
The Glasgow and Liverpool teams have joined forces to find out precisely how these so-called 'transporter' proteins work, as they believe they play a key role in making some patients resistant to Glivec.
'The focus of our work will be a group of CML cells which we know are resistant to the drug, but we will also study drugs which may affect the function of these proteins and therefore improve the level of Glivec getting into the cell,' said Professor Holyoake.
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director of Leukaemia Research, says: 'There is no doubt that Glivec has changed the face of treatment for this disease, but now we face a new challenge. This study will help to find why a small number of patients do not respond to this drug, helping to save the lives of more patients.'
Leukaemia Research is the only national UK charity devoted exclusively to improving treatments, finding cures and learning how to prevent leukaemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and other lymphomas, myeloma and the related blood disorders, diagnosed in 24,500 people in Britain every year.