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Grant boost for study into acute myeloid leukaemia target

Dec 20 2013

 Dr Kathryn Skelding

HMRI researcher Dr Kathryn Skelding is one of 17 young scientists to receive a Cure Cancer Australia funding boost this week, with a project aimed at developing a new targeted treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia.

The Priority-Driven Young Investigator Project Grant, worth $200,000 over two years, will allow Dr Skelding from the University of Newcastle to study a protein known as BAALC that is overly expressed in leukaemia cells.

“I will be investigating the role this protein plays in controlling leukaemia cell growth and survival, along with the development of resistance to chemotherapy,” she said.

“The five-year survival rate of acute myeloid leukaemia is just 24 per cent, and the development of drug resistance is common. New anti-cancer targets need to be identified to improve the outcomes without increasing side effects and toxicity.”

At the recent 2013 HMRI Awards Night, Dr Skelding received further funding to investigate the effectiveness of a new drug she has developed for acute myeloid leukaemia. It is currently being tested in laboratory modelling and, if successful, will move a step closer to clinical trialling.

She is also collaborating with colleague Dr Nikki Verrills on an acute lymphoblastic leukaemia project, studying a new mechanism for controlling chemotherapeutic resistance in that subtype of leukaemia cells.

“I have some preliminary evidence to show that the drug I’ve developed for acute myeloid leukaemia may also be effective in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia,” Dr Skelding said.

“Cancer arises when proteins within a cell become mutated and no longer function normally. Instead, they allow the cancer cell to grow rapidly or metastasise throughout the body, so we need to stop their effect and reverse the cell growth and spread.

“Finding these proteins involves a degree of luck and many hours in the lab comparing cancer cells to normal cells to find the differences, but the more we understand about leukaemia the better chance we have of improving patient survival.”

* Dr Kathryn Skelding is a researcher and lecturer in the University of Newcastle’s School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, researching in collaboration with the HMRI Cancer program. Funding was provided by the Estate of the Late James Scott Lawrie and HMRI Children’s Cancer Project Grant supported by Hunter District Hunting Club and Ablosi. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.