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First update on our PhD research project

MDS UK has great pleasure to provide the first update on the PhD research post we started funding in January 2020.

This post was made possible, thanks to legacies and donations received by our charity.

This update introduces the PhD student, William Walker. A team of experts at Queen’s University Belfast is providing experienced support and guidance.

In MDS patients some blood cells DNA is not repaired properly

Dr Kienan Savage, Senior Lecturer at School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at the Queen's University of Belfast, Centre for Cancer Research, explains the science behind the project:

“Some patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) can go on to develop the more aggressive acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). These diseases occur in the older population and have poor outcome mainly due to low level of tolerance of intensive chemotherapy.

In order to develop MDS, and indeed for this to progress to AML, some of a patient’s blood cells must acquire damage to their DNA that is not repaired properly, resulting in mutations that allow these cells to transform into cancer cells.

We know that in some cancers, particularly solid tumours like breast and ovarian tumours, the cancers develop due to a defect in their ability to repair damaged DNA, thus allowing them to accumulate more cancer initiating mutations.

Intriguingly this DNA repair defect often makes these cancers more susceptible to specific types of chemotherapies and newer targeted therapies, with reduced side-effects."

A DNA repair defect often makes a specific cancer more susceptible to certain chemotherapies

We aim to examine the ability to treat patients with DNA repair deficient MDS with drugs with more limited side effects

"By adapting a test designed to identify DNA repair deficient breast cancers, we have found that a large proportion of MDS patients, particularly those that progress to AML, have similar DNA repair deficiencies.

This project aims to use a combination of laboratory experiments, computational biology and clinical samples from patients to examine the ability to therapeutically target patients with DNA repair deficient MDS with specific drugs with more limited side effects than those currently used and therefore allow us to effectively treat more patients.

We are gaining a greater understanding into the mechanism causing MDS

William Walker said “I would first like to express my sincere gratitude to MDS UK for their donation. I would also like to show my greatest appreciation to the families whom have contributed to this funding.

We have entered a new era of MDS research thanks to advancements in genomics and many other computational technologies - this allows us to gain further understanding into the most intricate mechanisms causing MDS. Therefore, this new technology accelerates our progress and guides us in developing more effective and more specific MDS therapies.

I am incredibly excited to embark on this PhD programme, as I will be building on the current success at Queen’s University, Belfast. I feel very privileged to have joined such a strong team of world-leading MDS researchers and I believe this project will produce very promising insights into the targeting of DNA repair deficiencies in MDS. It’s a pleasure to wake up every day and know that I will be contributing to MDS research on behalf of MDS UK.”

MDS UK note: This piece of research now comes at a difficult time, due the inevitable drop in donations from Covid-19. The funds for the PhD have been ear-marked of course. However, without additional funds, our charity will struggle to keep up the full range of services to patients.
A further piece of research is also completely out of question, despite an interesting query about a complex sub-type of MDS.
We need to ensure the future of the charity first of all, before embarking into a further research project.

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