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Simona Valletta


Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund Intermediate Research Fellow

Haematology- Leukaemia- Ageing- Haematopoietic stem cells- Haematopoietic niche

I am a KKLF Intermediate Research Fellow based in the Professor Claus Nerlov group in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM).

I obtained my PhD in Experimental Haematology from the University of Milan in 2014. During my PhD I worked under the supervision of Professor Carlo Gambacorti-Passerini and my research was focused on the characterization of atypical Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (aCML), a heterogeneous disorder belonging to the group of myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative (MDS/MPN) syndromes. By using exome sequencing approach, we discovered SETBP1 as a novel oncogene and identified specific mutations of this gene in patients affected by aCML.

I then moved to the University of Oxford, where I joined Professor Jacqueline Boultwood group (Bloodwise Molecular Haematology Unit/ Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences) as a postdoctoral scientist to elucidate the function of ASXL1, a gene commonly mutated in myeloid malignancies including CML. There, I developed a special interest in the new powerful genome editing CRISPR/Cas9 tool that I used to correct the ASXL1 homozygous nonsense mutation present in the CML cell line KBM5, resulting in protein re-expression with restored normal function.

In November 2015 I joined Professor Claus Nerlov group in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit at the WIMM. Over the last four years, my research has been focused mainly on understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the decline of erythropoiesis during ageing, determining the contributions to this process of both the haematopoietic and stromal component of the haematopoietic system.

In July 2019 I was awarded a prestigious Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund Intermediate Fellowship for three years at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. Mresearch goal is to investigate the effects of the ageing bone marrow microevironment in the prognosis of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). I will specifically examine how the ageing microenvironment influences Leukemic Stem Cells behaviour contributing to their increased chemo-resistance and/or disease re-initiation after therapeutic intervention in elderly. 

This work will allow me to identify new drug targets that may be used to improve treatment strategies for AML in the elderly.