World Cancer Day 2021: Improving the outcomes for children with leukaemia
Dr Laurence Cheung is a Senior Research Officer and Cure Cancer researcher in the field of Leukemia and Cancer Genetics. Currently based at the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, Laurence and his team have developed a breakthrough preclinical model exploring why children with leukemia suffer from bone loss. As a researcher, a community member and a father, Laurence reflects that we all have our role to play in supporting those on their cancer journey.
Can you summarise your current research practice, and its impact on a global community?
My research is focussed on childhood leukemia, specifically looking at the leukemia microenvironment. This means we are looking at the neighbouring cells to the leukaemia cells, and observing how these interact.
In terms of cancer treatment more generally, the improvement in survival rates for childhood leukemia make it something of a success story. In 1950 the survival rate was 30%, and today it’s over 90%. That’s really significant. However, for children with high-risk leukemia, the survival rate is much lower, so this is the area we’re exploring.
What has been the most significant outcome of your research over the past few years in terms of improving the outcomes for children with high-risk leukemia?
There is clinical data to suggest that children with leukemia have more fragile bones, and this is something we have been exploring over the past 5 years. We established a preclinical model to investigate the interaction between the leukemia cells and the surrounding cells. This model also faithfully replicates the bone loss that occurs in children with leukemia.
We have identified a protein produced by leukemia cells, and this protein tells the bone-eating cells to eat the bone away. We discovered this signaling pathway, and this shows us why children suffer from bone loss. I think this is an important finding, and this is what we’re carrying on with our current research.
How do you think World Cancer Day empowers people all over the world to support a vision for a cancer-free future?
For scientists, healthcare professionals and community members alike, World Cancer Day is really important. It's a special day for us to reflect on how we can all play a role in striving for a cancer-free future. As researchers, we continue our battle with cancer. Healthcare professionals work with patients on the front line in guiding them through treatment options. We all play an important part.
In a way, cancer is scary, but it's very common now. As a society we are learning how to support each other through the unfortunate experience of a cancer diagnosis.