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Researchers find way to target cancer while protecting healthy tissue

Posted on 22 June 2022

Researchers have discovered how to target stem cells affected by leukaemia without causing harm to healthy stem cells, paving the way for new, safer treatments for the disease.

Dr William Grey. Image credit: Jeff Moore Photography

The research team, funded by cancer charity Leukaemia UK and led by Dr William Grey from the University of York, found that by targeting a small protein called CKS1 they could simultaneously kill cancer cells whilst preserving healthy cells. Improving treatment responses and reducing chemotherapy side-effects.

Every day in the UK 28 people, or 10,000 people a year, are diagnosed with leukaemia, a blood cancer affecting white blood cells. Despite decades of progress, only half of leukaemia patients live longer than five years after their diagnosis and the 5-year survival for one type of leukaemia, called acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), is just 15.3%. 


The findings of the study could lead to new treatment methods, with significantly reduced side effects compared to traditional chemotherapy.  This could increase survival rates and lead to opportunities to bring back elderly and clinically unfit patients into a selection criteria for intensive therapy. 

The team are now exploring the possibility of developing these approaches and initiating a clinical trial with colleagues at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

Dr William Grey from the Department of Biology at the University of York and the Francis Crick Institute said: “We hope that this work will open new avenues of investigation into the protein dynamics of stem cells, and give us a better understanding of how stem cells work in our body and how they go wrong during disease. In doing so we hope to reveal new and more effective treatment targets that haven’t yet been discovered during the genetic revolution that has been ongoing for the past two decades.”


Fiona Hazell, Chief Executive of Leukaemia UK, added: “We know that research has the power to stop leukaemia devastating lives, but that more still needs to be done to find kinder and more effective treatments, especially for acute leukaemias. 

“Dr Grey’s promising discovery during his Leukaemia UK John Goldman Fellowship, demonstrates the importance of continued research in this area and could go on to provide a vital new treatment option for leukaemia patients.”

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About this research

The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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