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Queen Mary scientist seeks new weapon in fight against cancer

A scientist at Queen Mary, University of London is hopeful of developing new drugs to treat blood cancer after being awarded a major research grant by UK charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.

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Dr Melania Capasso
Dr Melania Capasso

Dr Melania Capasso received £580,000 for a five year project to investigate the development of cancers of white blood cells called B cells. Around 17,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with these blood cancers each year.

Dr Capasso has recently established the importance of a protein, called ‘HVCN1’, to the functioning of healthy B cells. It is known that HVCN1 is also present in a number of B cell cancers. The protein, which sits on the surface of the cells, is thought to be crucial in sending the cells ‘signals’ to protect them from dying and supporting their proliferation in the blood, causing the cancer to spread.

Dr Capasso of Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary said: “Our knowledge of how these cancers grow is still rather limited, hampering the development of new drugs. If we understand how HVCN1 helps tumour cells grow, we can generate drugs that inhibit the process.”

Her team will use cutting-edge technology to suppress levels of the HVCN1 protein in cancer cells to investigate if it affects tumour growth. These laboratory models will be vital in designing drugs to ‘target’ the protein.

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “B cell blood cancers, such as chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, are hard to treat and many are incurable. A protein inhibitor drug, which specifically attacks the process by which the cancer cells spread, is a very exciting prospect. These types of drugs have been shown to be very effective and do not have the toxic side-effects of standard chemotherapy.”

Dr Capasso received the ‘Bennett Fellowship’, awarded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to outstanding young researchers to help them become established as lead investigators in blood cancers.

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