Natural supplements could minimise life-threatening risks of Aspariganse side effects

Acute pancreatitis is a life-threatening complication caused by the leukaemia drug asparaginase. Dr Julia Gerasimenko and her team will work out whether a food supplement called galactose could protect children with leukaemia from this serious side-effect. This would mean that they can continue taking asparaginase to give them the best chance of survival.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Energy supplements protect pancreas from side effects of Asparaginase

  • Lead Researcher

    Dr Julia Gerasimenko

  • Research Centre

    Cardiff University

  • City & Institution Postcode


  • Start Date

    2 January 2020

  • Duration

    12 months

  • Grant Amount



The drug asparaginase is a widely used and effective treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in children. However, one of the side-effects it can cause is a life-threatening complication called acute pancreatitis, which can affect up to 1 in 10 children taking the drug. There is no effective treatment for acute pancreatitis, so children with ALL who develop this side-effect have to stop taking asparaginase, which can reduce their chances of curing their cancer. We need to find ways to prevent acute pancreatitis in these children, so that we can give them the best chance of survival. Dr Julia Gerasimenko and her colleagues have been studying how asparaginase treatment causes acute pancreatitis, and how it might be prevented. They have found that a food supplement called galactose could protect the pancreas and prevent acute pancreatitis. Galactose is safe to consume and can be found in some foods, as well as breastmilk. However, doctors are unsure about how much galactose patients need to take to prevent acute pancreatitis. Dr Gerasimenko and her team hope to answer this question in this project funded by Children with Cancer UK. The team will use cells and lobules from the pancreas in the lab, and study how different amounts of galactose prevents damage caused to these cells by asparaginase. They will also study the effects of galactose in models of acute pancreatitis, to work out what amount of galactose will prevent the disease. Dr Gerasimenko and her team will also study how often the galactose needs to be taken. This will help the team to work out the supplementation protocols.

Potential impact

Dr Gerasimenko and her team will determine whether galactose could be used to prevent acute pancreatitis, a serious side-effect of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Protecting children from this life-threatening complication would ensure that they can continue asparaginase treatment, which will give them the best possible chance of survival.

About the research team

Dr Julia Gerasimenko is one of the leading scientists in the UK working on acute pancreatitis. Together with Dr Oleg Gerasimenko they made the important discovery (Cell,1995) cited more than 331 times (Web of Science) about fundamental mechanism of calcium signalling. Oleg Gerasimenko is a member of the Editorial board of Pflügers Archiv–Eur JPhysiol. JG is a Faculty Member (F1000-Gastrointestinal-Physiology). Oleg Gerasimenko and Julia Gerasimenko have an excellent track record in researching AP and have made significant progress characterizing the pathological effects. The most important findings, published in Journal of Clinical Investigation (2018), PNAS (2009, 2011, 2013) and Current Biology 2012 clarified the molecular mechanisms responsible for AP initiation. Dr Sujith Samarasinghe is Consultant Paediatric Haematologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. He is a key member of the national leukaemia toxicity group and has worked on defining toxicities for UKALL 2011, with a view to developing strategies to reduce their incidence. Recently, all three applicants published together studies exploring the molecular mechanism underlying AP induced as a side-effect of Asparaginase treatment of ALL and therefore have the ability to make significant progress in the proposed grant period.
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