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Unlocking the Mysteries of Blood Cancer: Insights from the New Directions in Leukaemia Research Meeting 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of blood cancer research, the quest to combat blood cancer continues to push boundaries. The New Directions in Leukaemia Research (NDLR) event in Adelaide last month brought together leading minds in the field to discuss breakthroughs, challenges, and the future of leukaemia treatment. From cutting-edge advancements in therapies to the promise of personalised medicine, the conference, sponsored by the Leukaemia Foundation, shed light on the latest discoveries and strategies shaping the fight against leukaemia.

The Leukaemia Foundation’s Head of Research, Bill Stavreski, delves into the highlights with us.

  1. Can you provide an overview of some of the most exciting advancements or discoveries discussed at the New Directions in Leukaemia Research (NDLR) Meeting 2024?

The 2024 NDLR conference brought together researchers from across the globe, in addition to the leading researchers in blood cancer from Australia, distinguished researchers from New Zealand, North America, Europe and United Kingdom. The conference continues a long-standing tradition of being one of Australia’s leading forums showcasing new and exciting work in leukaemia as well as other types of blood cancer such as lymphoma and myeloma. This year’s conference was no exception, with presentations from both local and international researchers revealing exciting new research into novel therapies paving the way forward for improved treatments, enhanced understanding of disease initiation and progression, as well as why some patients do not respond to standard therapies or relapse.

  1. What are some of the key challenges researchers in the field of leukaemia are currently facing, and were any potential solutions or strategies discussed during the conference?

The conference helps us understand, appreciate and be able to celebrate the advancements in diagnostics, treatment, and disease surveillance. However, it is imperative that we also recognise and comprehend the challenges that remain ahead of us. Many gaps remain and form the backbone of why continued commitment and investment in research is fundamental. Some of the presentations at NDLR 2024 highlighted the challenges we still face in achieving optimal disease treatment and management. Gaps in knowledge remain, whether this relates to disease biology; the presence of genetic abnormalities and their role in driving disease progression or therapy response; the inability to predict which therapy is optimal for each patient; or, despite advancements in therapies, why survival rates remain poor for diseases such as acute myeloid leukaemia. While there are challenges ahead of us, it’s just as important to recognise conferences such as NDLR help to facilitate collaborative efforts across research teams and international borders to tackle these head on.

  1. How important is collaboration in leukaemia research, and were there any notable collaborative efforts or initiatives highlighted during the conference?

Collaboration is integral to advancing leukaemia research. At the NDLR conference, fruitful partnerships between academia, industry, and advocacy groups were emphasised. Notable initiatives include joint research projects that spanned our states and territories and international borders, data-sharing platforms, and international consortia aimed at accelerating progress in leukaemia treatment and care. Conferences such as NDLR are important for the scientific community to present their work, to forge new relationships, and to discuss with other experts the barriers and challenges they face in their own research. The NDLR conference showcased numerous multinational partnerships that are helping forge critical breakthroughs, such as one of the studies involving researchers from seven countries illustrating how a specific gene increases predisposition to not only blood cancers but also other cancers, as well as having direct clinical implications for diagnosis and treatment strategies.

  1. The field of leukaemia research is rapidly evolving; were there any emerging technologies or methodologies discussed that could significantly impact the future of leukaemia treatment?

Emerging technologies showcased at NDLR 2024, such as single-cell sequencing, CRISPR-based gene editing, and advanced imaging techniques, offer unprecedented insights into leukaemia biology and therapeutic targets. These innovations hold immense promise for personalised treatment approaches and precision medicine strategies. There were several examples highlighted at the conference of how enhanced understanding of disease biology, including presence of genetic abnormalities and biomarkers, are paving the way for the development of new targeted and personal therapies, for both frontline treatment but also for patients who relapse.

  1. Can you share any insights into the current state of personalised medicine in leukaemia treatment, and were there any promising developments in this area presented at the conference?

Personalised medicine is now an important part of blood cancer care, with the use of screening and genomic profiling technologies providing the foundation to help identify treatment pathway for individual patients. At NDLR 2024, some of the exciting developments showcased are how genome profiling technologies are being utilised to help characterise and understand disease progression pre and post treatment, identifying novel and optimal therapeutic regimens for each patient, and being able to predict treatment sensitivities.

  1. Precision medicine has been a focus in many areas of healthcare. How is precision medicine being applied in the context of leukaemia research and treatment?

Precision medicine is an increasingly important part of care and is transforming the diagnostic and therapeutic management of blood cancers, from standardised care based on chemotherapy to tailored approaches according to molecular and genetic profile and targeted therapy. The utilisation of genomic profiling to define personalised treatment targets also represents increased options for each patient. NDLR 2024 highlighted precision medicine can extend beyond tailored approaches to therapeutic options for individuals. With unique genomic variations existing amongst First Nations peoples, precision medicine also offers the opportunity to enhance health equity in Australia.

  1. Drug resistance is a significant challenge in leukaemia treatment. Were there any discussions or presentations addressing strategies to overcome drug resistance in leukaemia patients?

Whilst the emergence of recent therapies such as CAR-T has produced improved clinical outcomes for some blood cancers, drug resistance remains a formidable challenge. At NDLR 2024, presentations from several researchers revealed how these challenges are being tackled head-on. In some cases, innovative approaches are being developed to potentially overcome drug resistance. Discoveries of novel associations between mutations and drug sensitivities now provide guidance on potential treatment options where standard therapies have traditionally had limited to no impact. It’s early days but these breakthroughs are not only helping us to understand why some blood cancers are resistant to therapy, but importantly, they provide genuine hope for many patients.

  1. From NDLR 2024, and looking ahead, what do you think may be promising or exciting developments in blood cancer we can hope to see in coming years?

NDLR 2024 showcased promising developments in blood cancer research, from discovery of genes that are having direct clinical implications on treatment strategies, novel screening and profiling techniques that tailor treatments and therapies based on a patient’s own DNA, to novel combinations of therapies and treatments for subtypes of blood cancers. Whilst it is too early to tell how significant some of these breakthroughs and innovations will be, we are optimistic, from NDLR 2024, about the prospects of improved outcomes for patients.

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