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Associate Professor Andi Roy leads one of the five research teams across the UK that have been awarded the 2021 Cancer Research UK-Children with Cancer UK Innovation Award. The awards, which provide a total of £4.3 million in scientific funding, will allow leading researchers in the field to delve into the biology of children’s and young people’s cancers, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent and treat these complex cancers.

Line drawing of babies.

Professor Roy leads the Childhood Leukaemia research group at the Department of Paediatrics and MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, and is a member of Oxford Centre for Haematology.

Despite improvements in overall survival over the last 40 years, cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in children and young people (aged 1-24) in the UK. The Cancer Research UK–Children with Cancer UK Innovation Awards will allow researchers to gain a better understanding of cancer in children, which they hope will lead to the development of better and less toxic treatments.

 Life-saving treatment

Professor Roy's group aims to develop a new way to treat a type of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), known as Mixed Lineage Leukaemia (MLL) gene rearranged infant ALL (MLLr-iALL), which currently has a particularly low survival rate.  CAR T-cell therapy, which uses modified versions of a patient’s T cells to attack their cancer, is often used to treat leukaemia. But using this potentially life-saving treatment in very young patients is limited, because it’s very difficult to obtain T cells from them, as these patients have already gone through intensive chemotherapy and are often immunocompromised.

In collaboration with Professor Anastasios Karadimitris of Imperial College London, she plans to test a new way of treating the disease by adapting this therapy to use a different type of immune cell called invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells that can be taken ‘off the shelf’. The researchers hope this CAR-iNKT cell therapy will be a more effective way of treating these very young patients. They will work closely with Professor Tom Milne at MRC WIMM, Oxford.

We’re thrilled to receive this award and are very grateful for the opportunity to develop novel therapies for infants with leukaemia. 
- Professor Andi Roy

Professor Roy said “We hope our work will lead to kinder and more effective treatments that improve outcomes in this poor prognosis leukaemia.”

Awards to leaders in their field

The first Cancer Research UK–Children with Cancer UK Innovation Awards were announced in March 2021 to five teams of scientists who are leaders in their field, to delve into the biology of children’s and young people’s cancers, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent and treat these complex cancers and develop better and less toxic treatments. Funding for these projects comes in at £4.3 million in total and signifies a much-needed turbo-boost for research into children’s and young people’s cancer, said Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK. “We are thrilled to be working with Children with Cancer UK in co-funding the Innovation Awards. This funding represents the dawning of a new age of investment into cancers that affect children and young people, and the awards are a key part of our research strategy.”

Dr Nick Goulden, Trustee of Children with Cancer UK added, “Scientific research, largely funded by charities, has underpinned the massive improvement in survival for children and young people with cancer seen over the last 30 years. This exciting collaboration allows Children with Cancer UK to maximise the impact of this precious funding toward our ultimate goal of saving the life of every child and young person diagnosed with cancer.”

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