New Protein Discovery Brings Hope for Aggressive Cancer Treatment

New Protein Discovery Brings Hope for Aggressive Cancer Treatment


A recent breakthrough in research has offered a potential new treatment approach for one of the most common forms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The joint study conducted by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center identified two essential proteins crucial for the development of this aggressive type of blood cancer. This discovery has opened up new possibilities for improved treatment options and has paved the way for a potential clinical trial based on the study’s findings.

Each year, approximately 5,200 individuals in Australia are diagnosed with some form of leukemia, with around 1,500 cases classified as acute. Acute leukemia is characterized by rapid growth and sudden onset, making it challenging to treat. Among adult patients, blood cancers like leukemia pose significant treatment difficulties, with a substantial portion of Australian patients experiencing relapse after initial chemotherapy and developing resistance to subsequent treatments.

According to Associate Professor Ashley Ng, one of the corresponding authors of the study, treating blood cancers presents a unique challenge, emphasizing the critical need for innovative therapeutics. In Australia, an estimated 135,000 individuals live with blood cancer or a related blood disorder, and unfortunately, approximately 16 people succumb to the disease daily.

Despite advancements in cancer research, the incidence of blood cancers has surged by 47% over the last decade, underscoring the importance of enhancing our understanding of leukemia and its mechanisms. The recent study identified two key proteins essential for the development of B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, shedding light on the formation of these cancers and potentially leading to targeted therapeutic interventions.

The research, which has been published in the journal Science Advances, focused on a protein called ERG that regulates gene activity in the cell nucleus. Imbalances in ERG have been linked to various blood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The study revealed that ERG, in conjunction with another protein called c-MYC, plays a pivotal role in regulating crucial pathways within leukemia cells, particularly the ribosome biogenesis pathway.

By targeting a gene known as POL I, which is integral to ribosome production and controlled by ERG and c-MYC, the researchers were able to inhibit leukemia cell growth effectively in pre-clinical and human tissue models. This novel approach presents a promising new avenue for developing targeted therapies against acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Collaborating with Associate Professor Elaine Sanij from St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, the study highlighted the potential of targeting ribosome production in combating aggressive forms of leukemia. The findings underscore the significance of disrupting cancer cell mechanisms through innovative therapeutic strategies.

The team’s collaborative effort yielded promising results, demonstrating the efficacy of targeting POL I with inhibitors developed at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center. Moving forward, the researchers aim to replicate these findings in clinical trials, offering new hope for patients battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Professor Rick Pearson emphasized the importance of collaboration in achieving breakthroughs in cancer research, highlighting the potential of this new therapeutic approach to revolutionize leukemia treatment. The collective efforts of experts across multiple disciplines have the potential to transform the landscape of cancer therapy and provide patients with much-needed treatment alternatives in the fight against acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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