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Could a combination of existing therapies treat acute myeloid leukaemia?

By Dr Julie Horsfield

Dr Julie Horsfield has been funded $296,180 to support her research.

Dr Julie Horsfield, University of Otago

Could a combination of existing therapies be used to treat acute myeloid leukaemia (an aggressive cancer of the bone marrow)?

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive cancer of the bone marrow with an overall survival of ~30%. Outcomes for older patients are especially poor, with cure rates of only 10-15%. Our fundamental understanding of how leukaemia develops remains incomplete, and little is known about the founding mutations of AML. Treatment for AML has not changed substantially in more than 30 years.

While exciting progress has been made in the development of drugs targeting recently identified mutations, it is unlikely any single-agent drug will cure the disease. Thus, researchers at the University of Otago will be looking at whether a combination of existing drugs could be effective in treating the disease.

The researchers will study AML cells which have been cultured in the laboratory. Firstly, they will identify combinations of genetic mutations that either cause cancer growth or prevent cancer growth. They will then use different combinations of existing drugs to target these genetic mutations and determine whether using a “precision medicine” strategy is more effective than standard treatment in preventing cancer growth.

How will it help people affected by cancer?

This study will help provide insight into the origins of leukaemia and may help identify new personalised therapies for people with AML.