Let’s find the off switch for leukaemia
There’s a protein in our cells called MYC. It acts as a controller, deciding which genes are switched on or off – so what if we could find a way to “switch off” a mechanism involved in leukaemia development?
Leukaemia UK John Goldman Fellow, Dr Victor Llombart, University College London, is researching MYC – one of the key proteins involved in leukaemia development. Uncovering more about how and why MYC becomes faulty could open doors to new treatment options.
T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL), is a fast-growing form of leukaemia, a subtype of ALL, that can get worse quickly without treatment. T-cell refers to the specific type of cells found in the immune system that are affected.
In the UK, around 800 people each year are diagnosed with ALL. It is the most common type of leukaemia in children.
The science behind the research
Dr Llombart will focus his efforts on MYC – a key protein involved in the development of T-ALL, other types of blood cancer, and many other types of cancer.
MYC acts as a controller, deciding which genes are switched on or off. It is vital to the life cycle of cells, making important decisions about cell growth and death.
In many types of leukaemia, MYC stops working properly. Research focusing on different cancer models has shown that when the faulty MYC is blocked, the tumour quickly shrinks. This makes MYC a hot contender for cancer drug development research. However, due to its complex structure, designing drugs to target MYC that are effective in treating patients poses an immense challenge.
MYC thrives off interaction with other proteins. Dr Llombart’s research will delve deeper into the components that make up MYC, focusing in on the N-terminal region – a region known to contain acidic clusters that might be critical for the interaction between MYC and other proteins. The research aims to shed light on the role of these clusters and identify which proteins they are interacting with.
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What difference will this research make?
Dr Llombart hopes this project will lay the foundations for future drug development research for T-ALL patients. As MYC is involved in many different cancer types, the findings have potential to make ground-breaking steps forward for patients with blood cancer and beyond.