Dr Jenny Wang has worked at Children’s Cancer Institute since 2011, when she relocated from Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, USA.
As Group Leader of Cancer and Stem Cell Biology at the Institute, she heads a team conducting research into leukaemia stem cells – stem cells in blood cancer that have the capacity to divide indefinitely and produce new copies of themselves (self-renewal), as well as to generate multiple cell types.
Jenny’s research efforts are focused on acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a type of leukaemia that is more difficult to treat and has a worse prognosis than the more common type of leukaemia in children, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). In AML, leukaemia stem cells tend to be very drug resistant and, because of their capacity for self-renewal, often cause relapse. To counter this, Jenny and her group are working on a new therapeutic strategy – one that disrupts stem cell self-renewal.
"The approach to treating poor prognosis leukaemia, AML, has not really changed in the last 30 or 40 years and the survival rate has plateaued", she explains. "My research is about developing the next generation of therapies that are more effective and less toxic."
Jenny and her team have identified several new therapeutic targets in AML and are collaborating with pharmaceutical companies to find clinical-grade drugs that prove effective against these, with the aim of translating this research into clinical trials in patients with AML. The team recently demonstrated one such drug to be effective in targeting leukaemia stem cells in preclinical disease models (Cancer Cell 2020). This treatment is currently under consideration for clinical trials based on availability of research funds.
"Our work is all about improving survival rates for AML. This disease is very tough; the cure rate is low. Many patients initially respond to therapy and recover, only to later relapse. We want to find a way to cure these people."