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Gene signature reveals the severity of disease in patients with blood cancer

Scientists have discovered a gene ‘signature’, the presence of which can “significantly improve” the accuracy of assessing how badly a patient may be affected by a form of leukaemia.

Professor Sergio Rutella
Professor Sergio Rutella

A team led by Professor Sergio Rutella, Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy at Nottingham Trent University’s John van Geest Cancer Research Centre, has used artificial intelligence to identify a gene signature which predicts outcomes for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

A gene signature is the genetic make-up of an individual. Everyone has the same genes but some genes may be switched on or off in different people.

Chemotherapy remains the standard-of-care for most patients with AML, in spite of the recent approval of novel drugs. Only about 20 percent of patients survive for beyond five years following its initial diagnosis.

However, the research team – which includes experts from University of Pennsylvania, USA, and Technische Universität Dresden, Germany - have now found that a patient may have a better chance of survival, and may not require intensive treatment, if genes coding for CALCRL, CD109 and LSP1 are switched off.

Professor Rutella, who is based in NTU’s School of Science and Technology, said: “This is the first time ever that the genetic make-up of bone marrow cells involved in leukaemia has been analysed in this way.

“We believe that it will significantly improve the accuracy of how badly a patient is affected by AML.

“The work might also accelerate the design of effective therapeutic approaches for each tumour subtype.

“This could include new drugs, such as monoclonal antibodies, which are able to unleash the power of the immune system’s response to cancer.”

The research has led to the establishment of new sub-categories of risk – very low-risk and very high-risk - for which different treatment options should be offered to maximise patient benefit while keeping unwanted toxicity to a minimum.

Currently, patients are only put into one of three risk categories: favourable, intermediate and adverse risk.

The findings are now being considered to help establish the implementation of a diagnostic device that supports treatment decision-making in the haematology clinic.

The research is published in the journal Blood Advances.

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students. NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience. The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook. The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2019 National Student Survey.

    NTU is also one of the UK’s most environmentally friendly universities, containing some of the sector’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

    NTU is home to world-class research, and won The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 – the highest national honour for a UK university. It recognised the University’s pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage; enable safer production of powdered infant formula; and combat food fraud.

Published on 23 July 2019
  • Subject area: Sciences including sport sciences
  • Category: Press office; Research; John van Geest Cancer Research Centre; School of Science and Technology