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Foundation welcomes news that some lymphoma and leukaemia cells can be killed by blocking the MCL-1 protein

Publish Date: 8/1/2014

The Leukaemia Foundation welcomes the announcement today from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of a promising new strategy for treating cancers, including lymphoma and leukaemia.

The research focused on a cancer-causing protein called MYC, which is present at unusually high levels in up to 70% of human cancers, including many leukaemias and lymphomas. The protein causes cancerous changes in cells by forcing them into abnormally rapid growth.

“We have discovered that lymphoma cells with high levels of MYC can be killed by disabling a protein called MCL-1”, said Dr Gemma Kelly of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Molecular Genetics of Cancer division.

“Excitingly, when compared with healthy cells, the lymphoma cells were considerably more sensitive to a reduction in MCL-1 function. This suggests that in the future medicines that block MCL-1 could be effective in treating cancers expressing high levels of MYC with tolerable side-effects on the body’s normal cells,” she said.

As part of its National Research Program, the Leukaemia Foundation awarded a Grant-in-Aid in 2012 to Dr Marco Herold and Professor Andreas Strasser who are leaders of the research team along with Dr Gemma Kelly, and a PhD (Clinical) Scholarship in 2013 to co-author, Dr Brandon Aubrey.

The Foundation identified this project as having the potential to have a significant impact on the future treatment of blood cancers and is pleased to have supported the work of the research team.

“We congratulate Dr Gemma Kelly, Dr Marco Herold and Professor Andreas Strasser and their teams on this discovery and look forward to following future progress,” said Adrian Collins, CEO of the Leukaemia Foundation of Australia.

Anthony Steele, Head of Support Services added, “Each year, more than 4300 Australians are diagnosed with a type of lymphoma, which affects the lymphatic system. As our nation’s sixth most common cancer, this announcement will be welcome news in thousands of Australian households today”, he said.

Recipients of the Foundation’s 2014 round of research funding will be announced later this month.

Read more stories like this in our Lifeblood newsletter.

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