Little Princess Trust News
Funding for projects to help babies with leukaemia
Two Edinburgh studies will tell us more about early stages of cancer
The Little Princess Trust (LPT) has funded two new expert research projects into infant leukaemia, a type of cancer that affects young babies.
Leukaemia is very hard to treat in babies, and often comes back after treatment. The cancer starts before birth, which makes it difficult to find out how it starts and why it progresses.
Dr Samanta Mariani, at the University of Edinburgh, applied for funding from LPT to find out whether the way infant leukaemia interacts with its surroundings is different to adult leukaemia.
She said: “While leukaemia in babies shares the same genetic mutations with some leukaemias in other age groups, it also has unique features which makes it difficult to treat.”
“The leukaemia’s surroundings whilst it develops are very different in infant leukaemia. In adults, the cells causing leukaemia mostly stay in the bone marrow but, in developing babies, everything is changing so much as the baby is born and grows.”
In Samanta’s LPT-funded project, titled ‘Finding out how leukaemia cells interact with babies’ immune systems’, she will investigate which immune cells are present in infant leukaemia, how they interact, and aims to find weaknesses that could be targeted by a new treatment.
Samanta said: “At the moment, there are no comprehensive studies that look at the way the developing immune system reacts to the start of infant leukaemia. Our project aims to fill this gap.”
If her team can understand how leukaemia cells interact with the immune cells around them, it could highlight new ways to fight infant leukaemia.
She added: “Receiving the news of the funding from The Little Princess Trust was an amazing feeling - a true example of pure joy! We now have promising preliminary results, thanks to the previous funding given to us by Leukaemia UK, and we can’t wait to get started.”
This information is urgently needed to discover new targeted treatment options.
Professor Katrin Ottersbach, also from the University of Edinburgh, is leading LPT’s second new infant leukaemia project.
She wants to learn more about how leukaemia starts. Whilst we know that the cancer starts before the child is born, researchers don’t know what type of cell it starts in.
Katrin said: “Infant leukaemia currently has a very poor prognosis, and we know very little about how it starts. This information is urgently needed to discover new targeted treatment options.”
Her research looks at different blood cells present in infant leukaemia. These cells have tiny molecules on their surfaces which decide how the cell will behave. Katrin believes that studying the different molecules and how the cells behave will help us to understand more about the start of infant leukaemia.
In this project, she is focusing on one molecule, called CSF1R, and investigating how it changes the behaviour of leukaemia cells.
Katrin said: “We have identified two groups of cells with the CSF1R molecule that show very different behaviours. We are trying to find out what is different between these two groups and how this is relevant for infant leukaemia.
“We found it surprising that the two groups of cells lead to differences in the way a baby’s leukaemia behaves, considering how closely related the groups are.
"Since they are so closely related, we are hoping that it will be easier to find the differences that are relevant to leukaemia, which could form the foundation of new treatments.”
She added: “The Little Princess Trust funds really excellent research, and we are all excited to be a part of this expert community.”
Wendy Tarplee-Morris, Director of Services and Impact at The Little Princess Trust, said: “We are very proud to fund these two important projects, which both aim to improve our understanding and ultimately identify the most effective way to treat infant leukaemia.
"We eagerly anticipate the findings of this and what it could potentially lead to.”