Dr Jenny Yingzi WangChildren’s Cancer Institute$359,4002015-2018
Dr Wang and her team have identified a new treatment target for one of the most lethal forms of leukaemia
Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) has extremely poor survival rates and remains one of the most lethal forms of blood cancer. Compared to the encouraging progress being made in the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukaemia, improvements in AML treatment have been limited.
AML has particularly high relapse rates, meaning the cancer comes back aggressively after initial treatment and this is usually fatal. AML is able to return because it is protected by a rare group of cells known as leukemic stem cells (LSCs). LSCs are quiescent/slow cycling and self-renewing, which help the cancer cells resist chemotherapy and this drives the redevelopment of AML.
Understanding of AML to date has been limited, but the discovery of LSCs has revealed a new opportunity for treatment. Dr Wang has been investigating how these stem cells could be targeted to prevent AML relapse and drug resistance. Her team has been exploring the specific genes and pathways that control LSCs, and whether these could be exploited to eliminate LSC activity altogether and they have made significant progress towards this goal.
They analysed whole genomes and discovered that a protein known as Gaq is linked to LSCs. By inhibiting Gaq-driven oncogenic pathway, the researchers also found in the laboratory it is possible to block the growth and survival of AML cells. In collaboration with pharmaceutical companies and clinicians, Dr Wang has developed new treatment approaches that target the LSC-specific pathway and has evaluated their effectiveness in inhibiting LSCs and blocking AML growth.
The novel LSC-specific pathway is showing promising signs of having anti-cancer powers, and this is opening the door to new and curative treatment opportunities for AML. Dr Wang and her team have successfully initiated further pre-clinical studies to continue to refine and test the effectiveness of this new treatment approach for AML. Their research is providing the evidence needed to start a clinical trial for a new, targeted therapy which cures AML and keeps patients cancer-free.