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2020 NIHR ACF PES Liverpool Platform Science and Bioinformatics 2



2020 NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship in Priority Research Themes

HEE Local Office: North West
Medical School: Liverpool
Research Theme: Platform Science and Bioinformatics
Specialty Options: Haematology

Plain English Summary

Blood cancer is one of Liverpool’s strongest areas of medical research. The group’s research is wide ranging and covers most aspects from cutting-edge science through to leadership of international clinical trials. The group’s success is largely down to the strong partnership that has been built between the main cancer hospital, the University and the diagnostic service. The fourth part of the jigsaw is our patient group and their charity which is called the BlooM (for Blood Malignancies) Appeal. The partnership works well because everyone involved shares the same vision and goals and pulls in the same direction to create a research environment where everyone understands their role and feels supported as part of a team. This especially applies to the group’s large and vibrant community of research students.

The group’s research is mainly (but not exclusively) focussed on certain types of blood cancer (leukaemia and lymphoma) that arise from normal cells in the immune system called B cells. Clinical trials led by Liverpool and elsewhere are investigating new approaches to treatment or comparing different types of established treatments to find out which is best overall. The trials are also trying to understand why a given treatment might be better suited to some patients than others. To do this, blood and tissue samples are taken before treatment are stored in a freezer. This is called “biobanking”. Liverpool runs several national biobanks that collect samples from more than 100 hospitals across the UK. Once collected, the samples can then tested in batches using different techniques to look for differences in their make-up. The lab results are then compared with the patients’ outcome to see if there is a link. This can lead to new tests that predict how well different treatments are likely to work in a given patient and shed light on how current treatments can be improved.

Liverpool is part of a national collaborative group that has been applying this approach to chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). As part of this collaboration, about 350 trial samples have undergone a test called “whole genome sequencing”, which entails de-ciphering the entire genetic code. Work is in progress to applying other cutting-edge tests to the same samples. For example, Liverpool is leading on a test called “proteomics” which looks at the cell’s protein molecules, together with “mass cytometry” which can measure up to 40 different molecules on a single cells. This test is important because it can effectively see a needle in a haystack and detect “bad” cells at a very early stage. By applying these tests to trial samples it is possible to ask many different research questions. The project we have in mind will tackle the question of why patients with an abnormality in a gene called “TP53” do badly. It will compare the makeup of CLL cells with or without a TP53 abnormality between and within individual patients to look for differences. The findings will be presented at national and international meetings and submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.