01:46am Monday 14 October 2019

Unravelling the causes of an aggressive childhood cancer

Researchers at the University of Cambridge studied the progression of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in mice for the first time. ALCL is an aggressive blood cancer that typically appears as tumours in the lymph nodes, skin, lungs, liver and soft tissue and mostly affects children and young adults.

Current treatment for ALCL consists of intensive chemotherapy, which can have devastating long term side-effects including heart disease, infertility and secondary cancers. Up to 40% of children with ALCL relapse, requiring extra chemotherapy.

The origins of ALCL were traced to a gene fault in developing blood-producing stem cells found in the thymus. The scientists believe that while current drugs can kill cancer cells that spread into the rest of the body, they may not always be effective at killing these original ‘cancer stem cells’. This allows them to sow the seeds for future relapse after apparently successful treatment has finished.

The research, which was funded by the blood cancer charity Bloodwise, is published online in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers also found that the spread of lymphoma around the body requires the corruption of a vital element of the immune system specifically, the T-cell receptor (TCR). TCRs are molecules on the surface of T-cells – a type of white blood cell that looks out for viruses and harmful cells in the body. In mice where the ALCL had spread, the TCR molecule was needed initially, but was subsequently lost from the surface of the cancer cells, meaning that the molecule was having a suppressive effect on lymphoma development.

Dr Suzanne Turner, a Bloodwise Senior Lecturer at the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge, said: “We now have a fuller understanding of the origins of this type of lymphoma and the pivotal role that corruption of the immune system plays in its spread to different sites around the body. By targeting the cancer genes key to the lymphoma’s development, we can design treatments that give a better chance of a long-term cure.”

Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Bloodwise, said: “The chemotherapy currently in use is particularly gruelling for children and teenagers, particularly if relapse occurs and more treatment is needed.  Greater understanding of this lymphoma will enable the development of more effective and less toxic drugs that allow every child to live a normal life after treatment.”


For further information, please contact Henry Winter at the Bloodwise Press Office on 020 7269 9019, press mobile 07824 375880, or email: hwinter@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk

Notes to Editors

The findings are published online in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday 12 January under the title ‘Anaplastic large cell lymphoma arises in thymocytes and requires transient TCR expression for thymic egress’. Corresponding author: Prof Suzanne Turner, University of Cambridge


About Bloodwise

Bloodwise is the UK’s biggest blood cancer charity dedicated to improving the lives of patients. The charity, which was formed in 1960, changed its name from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research in September 2015. Its life-saving work is focused on stopping people from dying of blood cancer, improving the quality of life for patients and their families, and where possible, stopping people getting blood cancer in the first place.


The charity’s research is targeted at understanding more about blood cancer, finding causes, improving diagnosis and treatments, and running groundbreaking clinical trials for patients.  The charity champions patients’ needs by influencing relevant decision makers and influencers, and seeking to raise awareness of the issues faced by patients.  Their patient services provide information, support and assistance to patients at every stage of their journey.


Around 38,000 people of all ages, from children to adults, are diagnosed with blood cancers and related disorders every year in the UK. It is a complex disease area made up of 137 individual diseases.  Some affect thousands of people, such as common forms of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.  Others affect only a handful. But together, blood cancers are the fifth most common form of cancer.


For more information visit www.bloodwise.org.uk.


About the University of Cambridge

The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To date, 91 affiliates of the University have won the Nobel Prize.


Founded in 1209, the University comprises 31 autonomous Colleges, which admit undergraduates and provide small-group tuition, and 150 departments, faculties and institutions.


Cambridge is a global university. Its 19,000 student body includes 3,700 international students from 120 countries. Cambridge researchers collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and the University has established larger-scale partnerships in Asia, Africa and America.


The University sits at the heart of one of the world’s largest technology clusters. The ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ has created 1,500 hi-tech companies, 14 of them valued at over US$1 billion and two at over US$10 billion. Cambridge promotes the interface between academia and business, and has a global reputation for innovation. www.cam.ac.uk




Henry Winter

Science Press Officer



t: 020 7504 2219

m: 07824 375880

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