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Leukemia Research Group

The Leukemia Research Group (LRG) implements cross-disciplinary approaches to understand basic mechanisms underlying leukemia, how these mechanisms can be exploited to develop and test new therapies, and to examine the impact of current and novel therapies on the long-term outcomes for children with leukemia. 

The LRG seeks to answer fundamental questions about the origins and molecular alterations leading to leukemia, to improve our ability to predict and minimize clinical complications of treatment, to enhance the detection of minimal residual disease following therapy, and to translate this understanding into the identification of new and targeted therapies that will spare healthy cells and tissues in growing children. 

Background

Acute leukemia is the most frequent cancer of childhood. The two main forms, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), account for more than one quarter of all cases of childhood cancer. 

Decades of research have achieved significant advances in leukemia treatment. However, current therapies for childhood leukemia treatment have reached their peak effectiveness. Most drugs in current use were designed in the 1960s, with few major additions to the treatment arsenal since the late 1970s. Most clinical research has focused on the doses and schedules for administering the existing drugs rather than testing new, innovative therapies.  

A critical limitation is that the available leukemia treatments lack specificity for leukemic cells. None of the current treatments for paediatric ALL and AML limit effects to the abnormal leukemia cells. Their side effects on normal cells and tissues in the body are common and can cause life-threatening acute complications, as well as long-term effects on health and wellbeing that extend into adulthood. 

The key to developing better, more specific leukemia treatment is a better understanding of the molecular events and the blood/bone marrow cell targets that underlie the initiation and progression of leukemia. The LRG is focused on answering fundamental questions in order to drive development of innovative leukemia-specific therapies:  

  • Where do leukemic cells come from?  
  • What normal cells give rise to these cancers?  
  • What are the cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to the transformation of a normal blood cell into leukemic cells? 
  • Can these mechanisms be exploited by therapies that target processes important to leukemic cell survival and growth?

This type of knowledge will accelerate development of new strategies to disrupt the specific cellular and molecular processes that lead to the establishment and expansion of leukemic cells. 

Areas of focus

Despite the clinical importance of leukemia in the central nervous system, we have limited tools available to predict this complication at diagnosis and we do not understand why the leukemia involves the CNS in some patients and not in others. 

For example, long-term survivors who receive cranial irradiation may exhibit long-term neuropsychologic effects including learning disabilities and show an increased risk of obesity, short stature and second malignancies.

Improved methods are urgently needed to detect minimal amounts of residual leukemic cells following treatment. This area of research requires integration of new molecular methods together with routine diagnostic tests to identify patients at high risk of relapse. These diagnostic results are needed to guide the optimal use of bone marrow transplantation for children with acute leukemia to and improve outcomes for children receiving these therapies.

Some members of the group are experts in evaluation of new therapeutic agents, while others are focused on acute and long-term outcomes of these treatments. 

Who we are

The LRG is a collaborative group of SickKids scientists and clinician-scientists from a variety of medical disciplines. Its members have joined forces to generate a clearer understanding of the cascade of events that generate and drive the expansion of leukemic cells, and to identify potential targets for   the next generation of therapies. 

The SickKids Leukemia Research Group is also collaborating with internationally recognized colleagues working on adult leukemia at the University Health Network.  

Funding

The SickKids LRG has attracted support for leukemia research from government, and non-governmental foundations who want a concrete, focused leukemia research agenda. 

Members of the Leukemia Research Group are supported by the following funding agencies:

Contact us

John Moniakis, LRG Assistant Coordinator 
Email: john.moniakis@sickkids.ca 
Phone: 416-813-7654 ext. 301578 
Fax: 416-813-8823

Leukemia Research Group 
The Hospital for Sick Children 
Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning 
686 Bay Street, 15th floor 
Toronto, ON 
M5G 0A4
Canada 

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