Early detection of blood cancers in the elderly

Dr. Kristina Kirschner, University of Glasgow and John Goldman Fellow 2019

Kristina Kirschner.jpg

What is this research looking at?

Ageing related impairment of the blood system is the biggest single factor underlying the onset of blood cancers or a decrease in the function of the immune system occurring in the elderly.

I aim to characterise different groups of blood stem cells (haematopoietic stem cells - HSCs) that emerge with age as separate groups (subpopulations). I will study individual cells by using a new technology able to characterise gene activity (expression) in a single cell rather than from a collection of cells, as would be the case in a blood sample or a tissue biopsy.

Single cell approaches are very important in cancer research since we know that only a minor subpopulation of cells usually causes and maintains the cancer. I recently found subpopulations of blood stem cells in the bone marrow of old mice, with and without a tumour suppressor called p53. Since some of these HSCs might harbour the potential to transform into fully cancerous cells or to cause imbalance of blood cell composition, leading to a well-documented immune impairment in the elderly, I would like to examine them in more detail.

What could this mean for people with leukaemia?

My project will identify markers to detect faulty blood cells before they cause a blood cancer. I hope to be using these factors to detect and/or eliminate faulty blood cells before blood cancer occurs in the future and to improve blood cell function in the elderly.

Official title of project: Early detection of pre-leukaemia clones in the aged haematopoietic compartment using single cell approaches