Hannah Dean

Supervisor: James Hammond

Project: Preventing the side effects of childhood leukemia treatment

“It is essential to push more resources toward expanding the medical literature that focuses specifically on women and children.”

Leukemia is a cancer characterized by an uncontrolled growth/production of blood cells and accounts for around 32 per cent of all childhood cancers in Canada, earning it the title of the most common childhood cancer across Canada. 

The use of anti-cancer drugs that act by killing and/or stopping the growth of cancer cells has found widespread success in the treatment of childhood leukemia. One such drug is 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP), a staple in the treatment of childhood leukemia for decades. However, 6-MP is known to have unpredictable and damaging side effects that may be severe enough to stop treatment. One such negative side effect is toxicity within the liver, which can account for up to 44 per cent of the unfavourable side effects caused by 6-MP. 

Another note of concern is that 6-MP must first enter cells via systems called "transporters" to have anti-cancer effects. Our lab has identified the transporter called equilibrative nucleobase transporter 1 (ENBT1) as the main transporter 6-MP uses to enter cells. Interestingly, the liver is known to have high levels of ENBT1 transporters; however, the relationship between ENBT1 presence in the liver and 6-MP toxicity within the liver is currently not known.    

To investigate this relationship, our lab has developed animal models that have ENBT1 in their liver cells and those that do not. We aim to extract liver cells from these models to assess their ENBT1 levels as well as levels of 6-MP toxicity.

By better understanding the relationship between ENBT1 levels and 6-MP toxicity within liver cells, we ultimately aspire to take the first steps in providing cancer doctors with the ability to better predict 6-MP liver toxicity and ensure childhood leukemia patients have the best possible treatment outcomes.

Hannah Dean was supervised by James Hammond and her summer studentship was funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. She is enrolled in the Bachelor of Science Honors in Pharmacology program.