Research in the department falls into three main areas with major relevance for human disease. The Haematopoiesis and Leukaemia Group, based in the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research (CIMR) and the Clifford Allbutt Building, the Structural Medicine and Thrombosis Group, based in CIMR, and the Transfusion Medicine Group based in the NHS Blood and Transplant Building.
Recent research initiatives include the establishment of a $6.0M Specialist Centre for Research, funded by the US Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the only one in Europe. The department has also played a leading role in establishing a £5.8M European Bloodomics programme.
Haematopoiesis and leukaemia. Haematopoiesis represent the best characterised adult stem cell system and continues to provide important paradigms for understanding other stem cells as well as cancer biology. The focus of this group continues to be the transcriptional regulation of blood stem cells, and the mechanisms whereby such stem cells are subverted to form leukaemias. Current research programmes include:
1) Myeloproliferative neoplasms, JAK/STAT signalling and stem cell subversion (Tony Green).
2) Transcriptional networks regulating blood stem cells (Bertie Göttgens).
3) The pathogenesis of bone marrow failure syndromes and leukaemia (Alan Warren).
4) The biology of leukaemia stem cells (Brian Huntly).
5) Multiple myeloma (Mike Chapman).
6) Zebrafish haematopoiesis and thrombocyte function (Ana Cvejic).
8) Low grade lymphoma (Ingo Ringshausen).
Structural medicine and thrombosis. Structural biology gives an unparalleled insight into the molecular details of biological mechanisms, an insight that has the potential to lead to rationally-designed therapies. This is illustrated by some recent studies.
1) Jim Huntington is studying the molecular mechanisms behind the delicate control of blood coagulation. His lab has determined crystal structures of the major inhibitory complexes that down-regulate clotting, and is now focussing on the large protein complexes that promote clotting, the Xase and prothrombinase complexes.
2) Research in Randy Read’s group is in the field of protein crystallography, focusing on the serpin family and featuring the Phaser and Rosetta programmes.
Transfusion medicine. The focus of Transfusion Medicine research is in blood borne viruses, diagnostics and transfusion in resource poor areas, biology and genomics of megakaryocytes and platelets. Particular highlights include:
1) Global studies of the molecular epidemiology of Hepatitis B virus in collaboration with major blood centres around the world. The genomes of HBsAg- and HBsAg+ strains have been sequenced and analysed. (Jean-Pierre Allain).
2) A Genome-Wide Association Study meta-analysis which identified 15 genetic loci that regulate the volume and count of platelets and the discovery of novel genetic loci that regulate platelet function (Willem Ouwehand).
3) Work towards blood cell production from human pluripotent stem cells (Cedric Ghevaert).
Diagnostics Development Unit. The goal of the unit is to develop innovative tests that are rapid, simple, cost-effective and more sensitive than currently available rapid tests. A rapid low cost diagnostic test for Chlamydia trachomatis has been developed and is now widely available. A test for HBsAg is being submitted for licensing. The Diagnostics Development Unit is led by Helen Lee.