Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI have been supporting research for more than 50 years with the aim of finding the cause and cure of blood cancers.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI support some of the infrastructure, students and scientists in the Blood Cancer Research Laboratories in the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) and Belfast City Hospital.

We support research in the areas of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML).

To continue with this life saving research we need to raise at least £500k every year. See the links below for more information on our research groups.

View Team

Our Research Team

Our team of researchers who dedicate their time to finding cures and medicines for fighting Leukaemia & Lymphoma.

Caroline Crothers, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Co-ordinator

Prof Ken Mills

Caroline Crothers, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Co-ordinator

Prof Mary-Frances McMullin

Caroline Crothers, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Co-ordinator

Dr Sandra Irvine

Caroline Crothers, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Co-ordinator

Dr Melanie Percy

Caroline Crothers, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Co-ordinator

Dr Lisa Crawford

Caroline Crothers, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Co-ordinator

Dr Kyle Matchett

AML/MDS Research

Principal Investigator: Professor Ken Mills

  • The number of molecular abnormalities in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) are becoming increasing complex. We now have a better understanding on the types and frequency of mutations that occur in these diseases.

However, both AML and MDS are, in general, a disease of the elderly; the average age at diagnosis is around 63-68 years old. Elderly patients do not respond to therapy as effectively as those younger patients with a similar type of disease. There are number of reasons but a major one is that elderly patients are often less able to tolerate intensive chemotherapy protocols.

  • Identifying Novel Therapies

Our research has a few different strands trying to identify different, and less intensive, therapies that may be beneficial particularly in the elderly patient population.

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One strand we are using is to identify proteins or mutations within the AML and MDS cells that can be used as specific targets for novel drugs or therapies. This means that the drugs would not affect the normal healthy cells but only kill the leukaemia cells.

In this strand of research we have used data from the gene expression profiling (GEP) of around 500 AML and MDS patient samples (Figure 2). This produces data on almost 32,000 different genes in each sample which is then analysed using computer programmes (bioinformatics). From these studies we have identified from the 32,000 genes some possible genes that could be used as a therapeutic target. Therapies that could be used against these “leukaemia” targets include some that are currently licensed for other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression or high blood pressure. In this way, we may be able to re-purpose these drugs towards leukaemia.

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  • Gene Targets

One of these targets being studied is a family of genes called the “ASB family” are controlled in normal cells and uncontrolled in AML cells. This means that we may be able to regain control of the leukaemia cells and force them to function normally.

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A second strand of research is around agents that alter the epigenetic status of the leukaemia cells. Epigenetics is the study of chemical changes to DNA or some proteins closely associated with DNA called histones. The chemical changes can switch a gene off or switch it on. The patterns of these changes are altered in leukaemia and stop the normal process of blood cell development. The good news is that the changes can be partially returned to their normal pattern. We are investigating how drugs that can alter the epigenetic profile of the cells can be used at therapies – either as single agents, in combination with other epigenetic therapies or perhaps by priming the leukaemia cells before giving more effective but with less toxic side effects, doses of chemotherapy.

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AML/MDS Research Team

Principal Investigators:

  • - Prof Ken Mills

  • - Prof Mary-Frances McMullin

  • - Dr Melanie Percy

Post-graduate Students:

  • - James Smith

  • - Katrina Lappin

 

Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML)

Principal Investigator: Dr Sandra Irvine

  • Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) is unique in that more than 95% of patients have the same genetic change which we call the Philadelphia chromosome (named after the city where the chromosome was first identified) or bcr-abl fusion gene (named after the two pieces of DNA which become ‘stuck’ together). This genetic change happens when the lower portion of two chromosomes (9 and 22) break off and swop places (a translocation).

Since the leukaemia cells all have the same genetic abnormality this allows us to identify them, even when there are normal cells present, and to target them with very specific drugs. This genetic change occurs in blood cells at an early stage in their development (which we call stem cells) and shows up as increased numbers of cells in the blood.

  • Research Projects

The research group are looking at two aspects of CML. First of all they are studying a novel protein called CCN3 which is involved in the root of the problem, the stem cells. This protein is present in normal cells but absent in CML cells. Adding pure CCN3 protein to CML cells in the laboratory is able to change some of the leukaemia properties back to normal. The group are collaborating with researchers in France, Italy and USA to see how these findings can be translated into improved treatment for patients.

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The proteasome is a special complex structure found inside cells which is responsible for removing damaged proteins. If these damaged proteins are not removed the cell can become cancerous. A new group of drugs has been developed which are called proteasome inhibitors and are proving very successful in patients who have become resistant to conventional treatments. The group have developed specialised tests to examine the structure of the proteasome in cells from patients to decide which of this group of drugs is most appropriate to use. They are also testing new types of these drugs in the laboratory to determine if they are more effective. This work is being carried out in collaboration with Professor Brian Walker of the school of Pharmacy and with research groups in Glasgow, Sheffield and the Dana Faber Institute in Boston.

The proteasome is a special complex structure found inside cells which is responsible for removing damaged proteins. If these damaged proteins are not removed the cell can become cancerous. A new group of drugs has been developed which are called proteasome inhibitors and are proving very successful in patients who have become resistant to conventional treatments. The group have developed specialised tests to examine the structure of the proteasome in cells from patients to decide which of this group of drugs is most appropriate to use. They are also testing new types of these drugs in the laboratory to determine if they are more effective. This work is being carried out in collaboration with Professor Brian Walker of the school of Pharmacy and with research groups in Glasgow, Sheffield and the Dana Faber Institute in Boston.

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Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia Research Team

Post-doctoral scientist:

  • - Dr Lisa Crawford

Post-graduate scientist:

  • - Cliona Johnston

Research Technician:

  • - Anne Jordan

Molecular Basis for Leukaemia Initiation and Maintenance

Principal Investigator: Dr Alex Thompson

  • The molecular landscape of normal and malignant haematopoiesis is being constructed globally by the use of advanced technologies including next generation sequencing (NGS), transcriptomics, epigenomics and proteomics. Such data hold the promise of better diagnosis, prognosis and potentially therapeutic intervention. Translation of these findings to the clinical setting, however, requires the development and application of relevant model systems and determination of druggable molecular pathways. Targeted drugging of the cells and pathways involved in maintenance of the disease is a primary focus of our group.

  • Haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs)

Haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) are recognized as the primary cell of origin for leukaemia initiation and hypothesized to be the primary cell for disease maintenance. Using the potent collaborating oncogenes HOXA9 and Meis1 we have successfully generated a clonal leukaemia in mouse that is comparable to the cytogenetically normal subtype of acute myeloid leukaemia (CN-AML). Deletion of HOXA9 and Meis1 in this model, using the Cre-Lox system, demonstrated oncogenic dependency, loss of leukaemia maintenance and decreased HSPCs colony formation.

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In collaboration with groups in Montreal, Germany, England and Belfast, the Group is currently establishing clinically relevant cell lines and in vivo models of aggressive leukaemia. Preliminary results from drug screens have identified a number of candidates for further study and extension to clinical samples. Other Funding: Queen’s University Belfast, International Union Against Cancer (UICC), Leukaemia Lymphoma Research.

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Leukaemia Development Research Team

Principal investigator:

  • - Dr Alex Thompson

Post-doctoral scientists:

  • - Dr Kyle Matchett

  • - Dr Ana Gonzalez Sanchez

 

 

MPD Research

Principal Investigator: Professor Mary Frances McMullin

  • The main research focus within MPD research is myeloproliferative disorders and chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Professor McMullin has an active clinical practice and collaborates with scientists looking at the pathogenesis of the myeloproliferative disorders and in particular investigations of patients with idiopathic erythrocytosis. She also works on the pathogenesis and treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia.

With the clinical trials unit there are a number of Phase Two and Phase Three trials in the areas of acute myeloid leukaemia and chronic myeloid leukaemia and myeloproliferative disorders. The team continually investigate for new and improved treatments in these disorders.

MPD research team

Principal Investigators:

  • - Prof Mary Frances McMullin

  • - Prof Ken Mills

  • - Dr Suzanne Mc Pherson

Laboratory

The Haematology Malignancies Research Group at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB), Queen's University Belfast consists of:

Non-Clinical Professor:

  • Prof Ken Mills

Clinical Professor:

  • Prof Mary Frances McMullin

Principal Investigators:

  • Dr Alex Thompson

  • Dr Sandra Irvine

Clinical Scientists:

  • Dr Melanie Percy

  • Dr Mark Catherwood

Clinical Research Fellow:

  • Dr Suzanne Mc Pherson

Post-doctoral scientists:

  • Dr Ana Gonzalez Sanchez

  • Dr Lisa Crawford

  • Dr Kyle Matchett

Post-graduate students:

  • Cliona Johnston

  • James Smith

  • Clare Crean

  • Katrina Lappin

Laboratory manager:

  • David McGibbon

Research Technician:

  • Anne Jordan