University of Sussex researchers announce pioneering cancer drug project

A microscope image of a leukaemia cell

University of Sussex researchers have found tumour-killing properties in an existing drug commonly used to suppress the immune system - a discovery that could lead to a new treatment for blood cancer.

The research team, from the University's Genome Damage and Stability Centre, has been awarded £146,000 by the blood cancer charity Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research for the pioneering project.

Cyclosporin A (CsA) is an important drug that suppresses immunity in blood cancer patients to prevent the body from rejecting a bone marrow transplant.

Dr Mark O'Driscoll, who leads the team, discovered that the drug has some additional unexpected qualities - it can target and kill cancer cells in myeloma (cancer arising from blood plasma cells) and chronic myeloid leukaemia patients.

Dr O'Driscoll says: "CsA damages the DNA of cancer cells, but as yet we don't completely know how. Our initial research suggests that it only kills cells which have a specific problem in repairing damage to their DNA. We believe that this can be exploited because certain blood cancers possess a very similar DNA repair defect.

"We'll be testing CsA in the laboratory to see exactly how it targets blood cancer cells. With state of the art technology, we can actually visualise the DNA breakage within the cancer cells. If the results are positive, we would hope that CsA can be rapidly made available for patients with these difficult to treat cancers."

Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: "Myeloma, one of the targets for this drug, is currently incurable. CsA could selectively exploit its 'Achilles heel', which is its genetic make-up itself.

"The exciting aspect of this research is that if it is successful, CsA could be made available for patients on a clinical trial. It has already undergone detailed clinical evaluation and is widely used by the NHS, so we know that it is safe."

Notes for Editors


The Genome Damage and Stability Centre focuses on research into DNA damage and its relation to a number of genetic and hereditary diseases, some of them rare, as well as cancers and neuro-degenerative conditions.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is the only UK charity solely dedicated to research into blood cancers, including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. These cancers are diagnosed in around 28,500 children, teenagers and adults in the UK every year. For further information, please contact Henry Winter at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Press Office on 020 7269 9019, 07824 375880 or email

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2011