• Funding to take Leukaemia Research forward
    Mhairi Copland, Professor of Translational Haematology; Matt Dalby, Professor of Cell Engineering and Director of innovation, Engagement and Enterprise (Molecular Biosciences); and Professor Manuel Salmeron Sanchez, Chair of Biomedical Engineering

News & Views

Funding to take Leukaemia Research forward

Jun 13 2023

Following a major investment worth £12 million, two new projects – led by the University of Glasgow and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – will focus on development of novel science and research tools to improve understanding and prediction of leukaemia and developing drugs for improved healthcare.

The funding is part of a wider £36.5 million investment in healthcare technology by EPSRC, aiming to transform the way patients are treated for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

The first project will develop engineered models of leukaemia in the bone marrow, in order to understand leukaemia development as a result of age as well as factors such as smoking, or as a side effect from chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for other cancers in the body.

The second project aims to examine very early changes in leukaemia’s cellular state by combining advanced biomaterials, novel microscopy techniques and robotics and using mechanical stimulation to examine the potential of normal cells to become cancer cells by using a laboratory-based model of the bone marrow.

Professor Manuel Salmeron Sanchez, Chair of Biomedical Engineering, said: “As we live for longer, our blood stem cells change in order to allow them to continue to grow. These age related changes can lead to the development of cancers such as leukaemia. Currently, we can’t predict if these age-related changes are a concern or not and so we miss the opportunity to advise on lifestyle changes and, indeed, to treat pre-disease/early disease.  A major problem is that we rely on non-human rodent models to understand disease progression and to identify new treatments. By developing new materials that mimic the bone marrow, where leukaemia develops, and using human cells within these models, we can focus on these earliest stages of the disease to provide new understanding, new screening methods and new drugs.”

Matt Dalby, Professor of Cell Engineering and Director of innovation, Engagement and Enterprise (Molecular Biosciences), said: “This funding from the EPSRC for these two separate projects is a fantastic opportunity as it allows us to bring together an amazing team from across the UK and to partner with doctors and industry to help us to focus on delivering technologies we need, and with charities such as Blood Cancer UK and Leukaemia Care to help us understand the requirements of the patient groups.”

Professor Mhairi Copland, Professor of Translational Haematology at the University of Glasgow, said: “We live in an ageing society where 1 in 2 of us will get cancer during our lifetime. Solid tumours metastasis to bone marrow and the development of acute leukaemia in older people is usually fatal. Existing cancer drug development often doesn’t accurately predict new treatments which will be safe and effective in patients. Hence this research programme is a hugely welcome investment in leukaemia research.

“Furthermore, using the mechanical properties of blood cells to identify accelerated ageing and risk of leukaemia development is a major breakthrough with huge promise to enable preventive medicine strategies in the future, reducing health problems in the general population, allowing people to remain healthy for longer.”

Supported by a range of industry partners, Blood Cancer Research UK and Leukaemia Care, the University of Glasgow is collaborating with researchers from the University of Strathclyde, Liverpool University, Birmingham University and Imperial College London.

More information online

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