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Prof Paresh Vyas is leading a new clincal trial at Oxford's Churchill Hospital which plans to study the safety of a new experimental drug to treat a form of leukaemia, called Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

Credit: Katja Gehmlich and Charlotte Hooper

From the RDM Image Competition 2015. 

The cells shown here are COS-1 cells. This is a monkey fibroblast cell line, which we use in the lab to produce recombinant proteins in a cellular environment, e.g. to compare disease-causing mutants with their wild-type counterparts. In this particular image, the actin cytoskeleton of the cells is stain in red (using phalloidin, a toxin of the death cap mushroom) and their nuclei are stained in green (using DAPI, 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole, a substance that binds to DNA).

Acute myeloid leukaemia is the most common aggressive blood cancer and there are about 2,200 new cases in the UK each year. It can be hard to treat, especially in patients over 65 years of age, and is often fatal within a year of diagnosis. Therefore, there is an urgent need for more effective therapies.

The lack of suitable treatment has been identified as a major unmet need by the national blood cancer charity Bloodwise, which is co-funding the study.

The drug is in the earliest phase of clinical testing and does not have marketing authorisation or approval. The purpose of the clinical trial is to start to gain an understanding of the side effects of the drug and possibly identify early evidence of effectiveness in treating AML. Patients with AML and who are aged 18 and older are being sought for the study.

The drug is to be tested as part of a long-term collaborative research project between cancer researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom and Stanford University in the United States. The clinical study is also a collaboration between Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Churchill, the University of Oxford and Stanford University.

Research between the University of Oxford and Stanford University found that leukaemic stem cells that propagate the disease protect themselves from being 'eaten' by immune cells by expressing a 'don't eat me' signal, called CD47.

Researchers developed this new drug to block CD47, and it is hoped will enable the body's own immune cells to eliminate Acute Myeloid Leukaemia cells.

This clinical research is funded in the UK by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, the Medical Research Council and Bloodwise and in the US by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Ludwig Cancer Research.

Chief Investigator for the clinical trial, Prof Paresh Vyas said: "This is an important study as it aims to provide much needed treatment for a large patient group where we have made limited impact in improving survival with good quality of life. It is also important as it is a radical new approach. It is an exciting and unique collaboration between two of the world's most pre-eminent universities and is a great example of how universities and the NHS can develop drugs from concept to the clinic in partnership."