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How does cell competition and cell death prevent childhood blood cancer?

Lead researcher

Dr Antonia Policheni

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Tumour type:
Leukaemia, lymphoma

Years funded

What is the project?

My work focuses on cell competition which has emerged as a powerful new concept in cancer development and treatment. Cell competition is a process that is important for the maintenance of healthy tissues, with ‘young’ cells outcompeting ‘old’ cells to maintain optimal organ function. There is evidence that chemotherapies commonly used to treat this disease can reduce competition among cancerous cells, unleashing treatment resistant cells resulting in relapse. We have learned that inhibiting the survival protein, BCL 2, accelerates a subtype of childhood leukaemia, T-ALL in mice. Defining the mechanisms of cancer resistance and the subsequent drive to relapse would be beneficial for new treatments for this devastating condition and of high significance to the field.

What is the need?

Acute lymphocytic leukaemia is the most common type of childhood leukaemia, with over 300 families annually receiving the terrible news that their child has T-ALL. Relapse in paediatric T-ALL is a common cause of treatment failure and only 40% of children survive, making relapsed T-ALL a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children. Little progress has been made in the clinical treatment of relapsed T-ALL, with treatment regimes based mostly on combinations used in frontline therapy; making cancer resistance to these drugs a common, major complication.

What are you trying to achieve?

Current therapies to treat relapsed T-ALL do not target the resistant cells that repopulate into aggressive disease, often resulting in a fatal outcome of these patients. My research is aimed at finding what survival signals these resistance cells are using to survive and to block these signals to kill them off completely allowing these children to enter life-long remission.

Funding Body

Cancer Council Postdoctoral Fellowship