2015 March 12

The European Research Council recognizes the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute awarding a prestigious Consolidator Grant to Pablo Menéndez

Pablo Menéndez has been awarded a European Research Council Consolidator Grant for his project Genomic, Cellular and Developmental Reconstruction of Infant MLL-AF4+ Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

Pablo Menéndez has been awarded a European Research Council Consolidator Grant for his project Genomic, Cellular and Developmental Reconstruction of Infant MLL-AF4+ Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

Infant cancer is very different from adult cancer and more and more it is being seen as a disease of the foetus as it develops. Dr Menéndez studies a very rare but very distressing infant cancer (t(4;11) acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL)); babies born with the disease usually die very young. One of the reasons that the ERC recommended funding the research is that there is currently no treatment.

The project aims to tackle the several questions that at the moment go unanswered: in which type of cell does the cancer originate? What is the chain of events that leads to full-blown leukaemia? How exactly does the mutation MA4 seen in this cancer affect the cells?   How can we explain therapy resistance and the involvement of the central nervous system?

Study of (t(4;11) ALL is particularly complicated due to the short lives of the patients. Unlike many other cancers there is no animal or cellular model that allows scientists to study it in the laboratory and do experiments that they cannot carry out in people. Also, there is a surprising stability in the genetic sequence of the patients, meaning that some other unknown factor is also playing a part.

Dr Menéndez's group have been commended for bringing several new innovative methods to research of this illness. They will create a cellular model so the changes that cells undergo during the rapid development of this leukaemia can be studied in cells in the laboratory. The model will be combined with studies in mice to further examine how the leukaemia develops in animals. In parallel they are also setting up a collection of samples from patients that will provide a lot more information than previous studies carried out on very small numbers of samples. Finally they will use a battery of state of the art sequencing techniques to study not only the genetic sequence, but also different chemical and physical changes seen in the genetic material that are known to affect how it performs its task and ultimately changing normal cells into cancerous ones.

The objective is to discover these mechanisms of the disease in order to be able to find targets for new therapies to treat it. Dr Menéndez has been studying (t(4;11) leukaemia for some years but the ERC grant will allow the group to step up the scale and power of their studies to a new level and greatly increase the speed of their work.