Dr Valletta’s fellowship will be based in the Nerlov group (Radcliffe Department of Medicine) and will explore the effects of the ageing bone marrow microevironment in the prognosis of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
AML is an aggressive form of leukaemia and one of the most common forms of acute leukaemia in adults. Disease relapse and multidrug resistance increase dramatically with age, particularly over the age of 65.
Previous research has examined how ageing affects haematopoietic stem cells, including how it may skew their differentiation to particular lineages or limit their repopulation potential following treatments such as bone marrow transplant. However, it is unclear how the bone marrow microenvironment where these cells reside is itself affected by age. The stem niche has a crucial role in maintaining and regulating normal haematopoiesis.
Dr Valletta’s research will specifically examine how the ageing microenvironment influences Leukaemic Initiating Cells, cells with stem cell-like properties that are able to initiate leukaemia, ultimately leading to AML. The project hopes to understand how the niche influences Leukaemic Initiating Cells’ behavior and how they contribute to increased chemotherapy resistance and disease relapse in elderly patients. Ultimately the researchers hope to identify new drug targets that may be able to counteract these effects and improve treatments for AML patients.