Manipulating cell death for blood cancer therapy

Manipulating cell death for blood cancer therapy

Illuminate newsletter index page, March 2020
March 2020

L-R Dr Gemma Kelly and Dr Sarah Diepstraten
(L-R) Dr Gemma Kelly and Dr Sarah Diepstraten study
B-cell lymphomas. 

The Institute’s long-term interest in the proteins controlling a form of cell death called apoptosis has resulted in two discoveries that could help to improve treatments for blood cancer.

New target for aggressive lymphomas

Dr Michael Dengler and Professor Jerry Adams have shown that combining a new anti-cancer drug targeting the protein MCL-1 with existing cancer therapies could be an effective new strategy for treating mantle cell lymphoma.

Mantle cell lymphoma is an uncommon but aggressive blood cancer that is considered incurable with standard therapies such as chemo.

Professor Adams said the results of the study were promising.

“The MCL-1 inhibitor could effectively kill cells in the mantle cell lymphoma cell lines, as well as in tumours isolated from patients and in preclinical models. Combining the MCL-1 inhibitor with venetoclax or ibrutinib increased the effectiveness of the treatment," he said

“This approach could offer clinicians better options for treating patients and should be evaluated in clinical trials,” said Professor Adams.

B-cell lymphoma survival: a shift in focus

In an interesting twist, a study led by has dismissed a protein previously thought to be important for the survival of B-cell lymphomas.

There had been reports that the protein BCL-W was critical for the survival of these particular cancers, making it an attractive therapeutic target.

But the latest study, led by Dr Gemma Kelly and Dr Sarah Diepstraten, has found that targeting BCL-W in cell lines derived from selected B-cell lymphomas did not kill them. 

Dr Kelly said the results suggested BCL-W should not be a priority for future drug development for treating these cancers.

“Other pro-survival proteins are more important to focus on here. It’s possible, however, that, BCL-W may contribute to the survival or drug resistance of other types of cancer,” she said.

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