Donations Boost Research to Improve Treatment Outcomes for Patients with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
Unlike those with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia where overall cure rates are above 80%, children with the rarer, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) suffer more morbidities and have a poorer outcome.
Despite intensive chemotherapy, disease relapse remains a major challenge. In addition, many children with AML who should undergo bone marrow transplantation as a curative means are unable to do so due to the lack of matched sibling donor. Currently, the cure rate for children with AML in University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) is only 35-40%.
“The first step required to save these children is to identify which ones are not responding well enough to chemotherapy so that their treatment can be intensified and they can be fast-tracked to transplantation.
Our traditional method of examining their post-treatment bone marrow samples through a microscope lacks accuracy and we need a more sophisticated method like using flow cytometry to detect residual leukaemia cells,” said Professor Hany Ariffin, who heads the paediatric haematology-oncology and haematopoetic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) unit at UMMC.
One of the team’s scientists, SLAB trainee Shafiq Azanan, is currently undergoing a training stint in the laboratory of Professor Dario Campana of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital to acquire the necessary skills to detect these ‘hidden’ AML cells in sequential bone marrow samples.
The other challenge is to enable children who need HSCT to be able to undergo this procedure even if they do not have a suitable brother or sister to be a donor. To circumvent this problem, Professor Hany and her team are pioneering paediatric haploidentical HSCT in UMMC ; opening new opportunities for children without a matched sibling donor.
UM’s war against childhood AML has garnered support from various quarters. Recently, Mr Tony Siew, whose son was afflicted with AML at the tender age of 8 months and his friends raised RM100,000 for the cause.
“There were many moments during chemotherapy when I thought I was going to lose my son from this terrible disease. He is a happy and active boy now thanks to the tireless efforts of the UMMC team. I want to help other children with AML to get a similar shot at life like my son, too,” said Mr Siew.
Another supporter, WAP International Sdn Bhd chief executive, Jennifer Ong who has been contributing to children’s causes for many years decided this year to focus on AML research with a donation of RM80,000, as it was an area of immediate need.
On 14 September 2016 a simple cheque hand-over ceremony was held at the office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation).
At the event, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Dr Noorsaadah thanked the generous donors and expressed her hope that UM academics would continue to pioneer translational research with direct impact to the community and nation.
Faculty of Medicine