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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia

Around 300 children develop a type of cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) each year in the UK.

ALL is the most common type of cancer to affect children. It’s aggressive and develops rapidly, so intensive treatment is needed. 

Treatment usually involves chemotherapy and steroids, but radiotherapy and sometimes a bone marrow transplant can also be needed.

Although the outlook is normally very good for children with ALL, it remains important to look for ways to improve treatment. The intensive treatment can cause unpleasant side effects including nausea, tiredness and hair loss. ALL can recur and sadly, a small number of children with this cancer still lose their lives.

Pictured: Dr Owen Williams

Making treatment even better

Identifying the best treatment for each child

Funded by Action, Dr Owen Williams and his team at University College London’s Institute of Child Health are searching for new drug treatments for children with a type of ALL that’s called TEL-AML1, after the cancer gene that causes it.

“We’ve discovered that the TEL-AML1 cancer gene turns on a particular pathway inside cancer cells that the cells need to survive,” says Dr Williams. “We’re therefore looking for drugs that turn off this pathway and investigating whether they destroy cancer cells in the laboratory.”

“We’re focusing on drugs that are already used to treat other illnesses,” says Dr Williams. “This speeds up the development process, because information on the safety of those drugs is already available.”

“We hope to find a drug that can be used alongside chemotherapy, so the intensity of chemotherapy can be reduced,” continues Dr Williams. “Our ultimate goal is to spare children from some of the side effects of chemotherapy and protect more children from relapses.”

“Our ultimate goal is to spare children from some of the side effects of chemotherapy and protect more children from relapses.” Dr Owen Williams