While various forms of leukaemia have seen their survival rates blossoming thanks to powerful research, others are harder to treat. But researchers are gradually discovering their weak spots.
In the group of blood cancers known collectively as acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, there is a specific version that is not easily treated. It’s driven by a mutation of a particular gene called FLT3.
Cancers with these FLT3 mutations are fuelled by an amino acid called ‘serine’. These specific cancer cells are metabolically wired to require high rates of serine to thrive and grow. They take serine from the blood and, most interestingly, they also produce their own serine.
“We don’t know how to treat this particular type of AML effectively, so children who have leukemia with a FLT3 mutation do not do well,” says Professor Ricky Johnstone, Executive Director of Cancer Research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Head of the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology at The University of Melbourne.
Johnstone, who has been deeply involved in cancer research since 1990, heads an army of 700 researchers at Peter Mac. They represent our front line in the battle against numerous types of cancer.