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UK researchers awarded £2m grant to personalise treatment for lymphomas

Published: 
14 October 2015
Professor Peter Johnson

Cancer scientists at the universities of Southampton, Leeds, Oxford, Cambridge and Queen Mary London have been awarded more than £2m by blood cancer charity Bloodwise.

Coordinated by the University of Southampton, this unique collaborative project aims to allow doctors to rapidly determine the precise genetic signature of a patient’s lymphoma and then find drugs tailor-made to target the genetic faults driving the cancer.

Professor Peter Johnson, who is heading the project at Southampton, said: “Greater understanding of how lymphoma starts and develops is already leading to the creation of new, tailored, life-saving drugs to target specific cancerous cells. This kind of precision treatment is desperately needed to help the many patients with aggressive lymphomas who need something more than the current treatments.”

Lymphomas are a group of cancers of the blood, and are diagnosed in over 11,000 people of all ages each year in the UK. Lymphomas start in the body's lymphatic system, a part of our immune system that fights against disease and infection.

Survival rates for aggressive lymphomas affecting white blood cells known as B-cells have improved greatly over the last 20 years. But there still remain a considerable number of patients – several thousand every year in the UK alone - for whom current treatments are unsuccessful, resulting in important years of life lost.

The UK-wide team of researchers will analyse the genetic errors in lymphoma cells taken from routine biopsies of lymphoma patients, to allow them to identify distinct subtypes of lymphoma.

This will be the world’s first study to also monitor variation in the activity of genes in real time to characterise diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the commonest aggressive lymphoma. Using this technique, the researchers hope to reveal how lymphomas develop and how these can be treated by matching new precision drugs to patients’ biological profiles.

Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Bloodwise, said: “The side-effects of current treatments can be highly toxic and success can be a bit trial-and-error. We need to develop these personalised drugs and work out how best to use them so that we can precisely target the cancer cells whilst sparing the healthy ones. This is an incredibly exciting project that could transform the way doctors treat many lymphoma patients.”

Medicine at Southampton

Notes for editors

The cure for cancer? You’re it.
The University of Southampton has launched a campaign to raise £25m to open the UK’s first dedicated Centre for Cancer Immunology. Find out more here.

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