Funding of DKK 20 million from the Danish Cancer Society "Knæk Cancer" campaign has made it possible to open the Danish Research Center for Precision Medicine of Blood Cancer, which will improve medication for blood cancer patients.
To begin with, the new research centre will focus on acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), which are rare but very serious bone marrow diseases. The aim is to identify and develop drugs targeting specific cancer cells in individual patients. This is known as precision medicine or personalised medicine.
"The Danish Research Center for Precision Medicine of Blood Cancer covers a group of patients who are in great need of better treatment options than are available today. The centre brings together innovative and excellent research from a strong research community. A nationwide centre is key to understanding the diseases and developing better treatments," said Giske Ursin, Director of the Cancer Registry of Norway, and chair of the international expert committee, which assessed the new research centre on behalf of the Danish Cancer Society.
Same options for all patients
The new research centre will be based at the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) at the University of Copenhagen, but it is a collaboration between researchers and physicians from all haematology departments in Denmark. The DKK 20 million grant from the "Knæk Cancer" campaign will be used to develop systems and establish collaboration enabling the centre to include all phases, from fundamental biology and basic research to treatment of patients and development of new medicine.
"We want to improve treatment, quality of life and survival rates for MDS and AML patients. We will achieve this through coordinated cooperation across Denmark, making sure that all patients have the same options for personalised medicine, irrespective of where they live," said Kirsten Grønbæk, Professor and Senior Consultant, MD, at Rigshospitalet, who is the head of the new centre.
Biobank and drug screening
A key element of the centre will be to establish a biobank of tissue samples from MDS and AML patients, and a drug-screening unit that is currently being established at Rigshospitalet. In the drug screening process, cancer stem cells from individual patients are exposed to 400 different drugs.
"Hopefully, this will help us find the drug that specifically attacks the individual patient's cancer stem cells. These are the cells behind any relapse of the cancer. Furthermore, we'll be trying to find the molecular changes indicating that this is the perfect treatment," explained Kirsten Grønbæk.
"For some patients, we'll immediately find one or more drugs that have an effect. For others, we won't. The idea is that while attempting to treat a specific patient, we'll also learn things that can benefit patients in the future, and that can help us develop new drugs," she said.
Even though the Danish Research Center for Precision Medicine of Blood Cancer will initially be focusing on MDS and AML, Kirsten Grønbæk hopes that, in future, research at the centre will comprise all types of blood cancer.
• "Knæk Cancer" is a joint campaign organised by TV 2 and the Danish Cancer Society. The aim is to tell people about cancer and collect money for cancer research, etc.
• On the detgaarpengenetil.dk website (in Danish), you can read more about the 267 projects that have been or are about to be launched thanks to money collected through "Knæk Cancer".
MDS and AML• Every year, around 260 Danes are diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), and approx. 250 Danes are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
• MDS is sometimes referred to as pre-leukaemia, because in some cases it develops into acute leukaemia. But MDS is in itself a serious disease involving bone marrow failure.
• MDS and AML are rare diseases, but it is likely that they will become more frequent in the future. One explanation for this is the ageing population and the fact that these diseases primarily strike elderly people. Another reason is that an ever-increasing number of patients survive cancer, and MDS and AML may be caused by previous cancer treatments with chemo and radiation.