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Professor Tessa Holyoake

UofG Profile

Professor Holyoake, a world-renowned expert in Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) and one of the most exceptional scientists and clinicians of her generation, died peacefully on 30 August 2017, aged 54.

The work of the Holyoake team, which has been supported by The Howat Foundation, focuses on understanding the inner workings of stem cells in the blood cancer chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Patients diagnosed with CML are treated with oral medication called kinase inhibitors. These drugs have been rationally designed to block the function of the driver cancer gene BCR-ABL. However the Holyoake team has shown that in CML the stem cell population is much less sensitive to kill by kinase inhibitors. 

This is of key importance because it is this stem cell population that gives rise to CML in the first place, maintains the disease in the face of kinase inhibitors, is responsible for drug resistance, disease progression and relapse if patients stop their kinase inhibitor therapy for any reason. The team has used a range of omics technologies – genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, epigenomics and metabolomics - to compare how CML stem cells differ to normal stem cells in terms of the signals that keep the leukaemia stem cells alive during kinase inhibitor therapy. 

In a second step they have then applied computational methods to interrogate all the data generated by the omics screens and come up with several potentially druggable candidates. The last two years have been invested in pre-clinical studies – the stage before taking new drugs into human trials and the team hopes that this work will reach the clinic within 1-3 years. The Holyoake team is committed to precision medicine research: the right drug at the right time for the right effect in the patient.

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