Professor Tim Somervaille

Understanding the biology of leukaemia

Professor Tim Somervaille is based at Cancer Research UK’s Manchester Institute where he heads the Leukaemia Biology lab. The group is focussing their interests on a type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). They’re working to understand the mechanisms by which blood cells turn cancerous, aiming to develop new treatments to target those abnormalities. In particular, they’re homing in on a population of cells called ‘leukaemia stem cells’.

Healthy stem cells are vital throughout life to help the body repair and maintain tissues, but in cancer these cells can become faulty and fuel the disease. Leukaemia stem cells are important in patients with AML because they continually grow and divide, potentially even forever if not stopped in their tracks. This means that if a treatment does not completely wipe these cells out of the body, the cancer will come back when the treatment stops. 

Professor Somervaille is therefore looking into which genes and molecules are most important to keep these ‘leukaemia stem cells’ functioning and growing. In doing so, he hopes to reveal potential new targets that could be used in the development of new treatments to stop the disease from returning, helping more people survive.  

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
Pre-clinical research

Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, The University of Manchester, Alderly Park