Investigating how childhood leukaemia develops

The outlook for children diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (B-ALL) is poor because there is a lack of knowledge about how the disease occurs in children. Prof. Katrin Ottersbach is investigating the role of chromosomal rearrangement in B-ALL, as well as the roles of the immune system and infections in the development of childhood leukaemia more widely. Her findings could help to develop new and more precise therapies to give children a better chance of survival from leukaemia. We’re partnering with Cancer Research UK to co-fund this £1.3 million programme of research.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Investigating how childhood leukaemia develops

  • Lead Researcher

    Prof. Katrin Ottersbach

  • Research Centre

    University of Edinburgh

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Edinburgh, EH16 4UU

  • Start Date

    1 April 2017

  • Duration

    72 months

  • Grant Amount

    £313,000 (This project is co-funded with Cancer Research UK. The total cost of the project is £1,353,428.85).

Katrin Ottersbach photo 20201209

Overview

Very little is known about how childhood leukaemia develops. Cancerous leukaemia cells form when something goes wrong in the production of new blood cells. Prof. Katrin Ottersbach at the University of Edinburgh is investigating whether overactivity of the immune system, such as in response to an infection, could induce the development of childhood leukaemia, as it does with adult leukaemia. She has been studying whether certain infections during a baby’s development could trigger the development of a type of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Understanding the origins of leukaemia will help the team to develop better ways of preventing and treating it.

Prof. Ottersbach is also studying how a chromosomal rearrangement that fuses the two genes – MLL and AF4 – before birth leads to a particularly aggressive manifestation of the disease called B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (B-ALL). To do this, her team is looking at cells in the lab, as well as young mice with the disease, to gain new insights into how MLL and AF4 causes infant leukaemia.

Potential impact

The outlook for children diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (B-ALL) is poor because there is a lack of knowledge about how the disease occurs in children. In this project, Prof. Katrin Ottersbach’s ultimate goal is to apply their findings to develop new and more precise therapies to give children a better chance of survival from this aggressive form of cancer.

About the research team

Prof. Katrin Ottersbach at the University of Edinburgh is studying the developmental origins of a particularly aggressive form of childhood leukaemia called B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (B-ALL).

Prof. Ottersbach’s team has longstanding expertise in studying how the first blood cells, particularly the first blood stem cells, are generated during development. They are now applying their expertise to understand what goes wrong in the initial stages of leukaemia.

Her team are investigating how the disease might begin – even before birth – to develop better treatment strategies. Prof. Ottersbach and her team are also interested in the role infection could play in the development of leukaemia.