Researchers from UNSW and the Children's Cancer Institute Australia have developed a new approach to the treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), one of the most aggressive forms of the disease.

The approach uses an antibody to preferentially target AML 'cancer initiating cells', and may also prove effective in treating other leukaemias with fewer side effects, according to UNSW's Associate Professor Richard Lock.

"There are several kinds of leukaemia, depending on which blood cell becomes cancerous, but acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is one of the most aggressive, especially in adults, with poor survival rates despite the many types of treatments we have," Associate Professor Lock said.

"These 'cancer initiating cells' - which are relatively resistant to chemotherapy - are a major reason why we struggle to cure most AML. Improving the outlook for patients with AML requires elimination of these cells."

A paper outlining the breakthrough appears in the latest issue of the prestigious journal Cell Stem Cell .

"This is a form of leukaemia where the outcomes of treatment haven't improved much in 20 to 30 years. This research delivers a new line of targeted therapy for the treatment of AML," Associate Professor Lock said.

"We need a leap forward and we're hoping this is it."

The antibody used in the research is currently in a Phase I clinical trial. It was first created by Professor Angel Lopez now at the Centre for Cancer Biology in Adelaide, and the research was undertaken in collaboration with both Professor Lopez and Professor John Dick at the University Health Network, University of Toronto.

Media contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media | 9385 8107 |