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Beating blood cancers

01 April 2011

Dr Thet Thet LinDr Thet Thet Lin

Pioneering University research which established a new mechanism of genetic mutation that leads to the development of the UK’s commonest leukaemia has scooped a major UK cancer research prize.

Dr Thet Thet Lin, a scientist working in the School of Medicine, has been awarded the Hamblin Prize in recognition of her innovative research into chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

A member of the University’s Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) Research Group, Dr Thet Lin’s research, published in the journal Blood and funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, examined structures at the end of chromosomes, known as telomeres.

Telomeres are known to protect human DNA and help to prevent genetic mutations that lead to cancer. By examining telomeres Dr Thet Lin found that patients with short telomeres were much more likely to show evidence of increased genetic mutations at the end of the chromosomes.

Critically, she found that these mutations were caused by chromosome ends fusing together – the first time scientists have been able to demonstrate that fusing telomeres is linked to the progression of a human cancer.

Dr Chris Pepper and Dr Duncan Baird, School of Medicine, who co-led Dr Lin’s research, said "Thet is an incredibly dedicated researcher and her work has provided important new insights into the role of telomeres in driving disease progression in Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research

"This award is a richly deserved recognition of the work that Thet has done with us over the last three years and we believe that her findings will allow us to improve the clinical management of patients in the future."

The research also benefited from a new and unique method developed by University scientists. Dr Baird has developed a high-resolution method for accurately measuring telomeres called single telomere length analysis (STELA).

Unlike all other measuring methods, STELA is capable of measuring really short telomeres - the telomeres that are prone to fusion and cause genetic instability.

Dr Pepper added: "Thet's work has allowed us to identify a new mechanism of disease progression in CLL patients.

"As a result of this work we are now undertaking a larger study to determine the clinical significance of Thet’s findings."