Joining forces to diagnose leukaemia faster and better

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Polish researchers are proposing an innovative leukaemia diagnostic method to foster relapse prevention. To proceed with developing a specialised diagnostic device, they have just been granted a funding of PLN 26 million as part of the TEAM-NET programme run by the Foundation for Polish Science.

Research work will be carried out by a consortium composed of five research establishments, with the University of Warsaw acting as the leader. The project objective is to establish a diagnostic device for a prompt and markerless imaging, tracking and sorting of leukaemic cell subtypes.

A few subtypes of leukaemic cells, differing in mutation sets, are found in the bone marrow of leukaemic patients. The current standard diagnostics makes it possible to track only the dominant subtype at which the whole treatment is targeted. While it is usually efficient, relapse may occur due to the proliferation of cancer cells of other subtypes which were already present in the bone marrow at the time of diagnosis, although in insignificant quantities. It would, therefore, seem logical to implement the adequate treatment targeted at all leukaemic cell subtypes right from the start.

The device and algorithm

“We want to facilitate and accelerate the diagnostics of leukaemia, and to make it more efficient, as our device will enable determining all the leukaemic cell subtypes found in the patient’s bone marrow,” said Professor Czesław Radzewicz from the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw, acting as the project manager. As he further explained, each leukaemic subclone has a slightly different metabolism and produces different metabolites, varying from other subclones in terms of chemical composition. Due to these chemical composition differences, each subtype scatters light in a different way in the so-called Raman spectrum, and this is the property which the Polish researchers want to explore. “We have conducted multi-faceted research on the Raman spectra of individual leukaemic subclones, and we are planning to relate them to the clinical characteristics of leukaemia. This way, we will develop a diagnostic algorithm of the disease types. Creating a unique device to enable the immobilisation of cancer cells and to generate images of their Raman spectra, and then to perform microscopic analysis, will pose a major technological challenge. In the long run, we intend the analysis to be performed automatically. By combining the device with the algorithm, the disease can be diagnosed in a fast, objective, cheaper and more effective way, which will translate into more efficient treatment,ˮ stressed Professor Czesław Radzewicz.

Prof. Czesław Radzewicz_fot. Archiwum prywatne_do nieodpłatnego wykorzystania
Prof. Czesław Radzewicz, photo: private archive

Work on the new diagnostic method will involve six multi-disciplinary teams comprising, among other experts, oncologists, chemists and physicists. These will be research groups from the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw, from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences, from the Institute of Haematology and Transfusion Medicine in Warsaw, from the Medical University of Łódź, and from the Faculty of Chemistry at the Jagiellonian University. Over PLN 26 million was awarded to the researchers by the Foundation for Polish Science for the four-year project involving the development and clinical implementation of both the algorithm and the device. The project is one of the eleven projects that received co-funding in the TEAM-NET programme competition.

The TEAM-NET programme

The Foundation for Polish Science’s TEAM-NET programme provides funds for interdisciplinary research implemented through a network of cooperating research teams led by prominent and experienced scientists. In addition to facilitating the implementation of innovative research in Poland, the objective of the programme is to intensify supra-regional cooperation between research establishments and to develop competencies regarding the use of the available infrastructure and research services. Based on the competition requirements, the budget of a research project can amount to PLN 3.5 million per team, for a period from 36 to 48 months.

Applications for the TEAM-NET competition could be submitted in October 2018, and in March 2019 the Foundation for Polish Science announced competition results. As many as 39 project applications were submitted, of which 11 received co-funding following the substantive evaluation, for a total amount exceeding PLN 201 million.

The TEAM-NET competition is managed by FNP using EU resources from the European Regional Development Fund as part of the Smart Growth Operational Programme.