The identification of leukaemic stem cells (LSCs) in the late 1990s supported the idea that leukaemia is primarily driven by the presence of a collection of rare cancer cells in the blood.

Since then, many leukaemia treatments have been evaluated on their ability to reduce the number of leukaemia cells. However, if the treatments are not killing LSCs then the cancerous cells may develop drug resistance, causing relapse. 

Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) patients are currently treated with drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) that inhibit the function of the cancer-forming protein BCR-ABL. We have recently seen that CML LSCs can survive TKI treatment, indicating that this therapy alone may not lead to a cure. 

A combination of treatments is therefore required to cure CML. Dr Helgason's research will investigate vulnerabilities in CML LSCs and aim to identify new treatments for the eradication of leukaemic stem cells.