University of Malaya, Malaysia
Professor Hany Ariffin is Head and Senior Consultant at the Paediatric Haematology-Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation Unit of University of Malaya Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
Her main research interest is in the biology and treatment of childhood leukemia and she has been the Malaysian lead for the Malaysia-Singapore (MASPORE) Childhood Leukemia Study Group for the past 15 years. Her other research areas include childhood cancer survivorship, stem cell transplantation and inherited cancers, particularly related to mutations in TP53 gene. In 2015, she won the Anugerah Akademik Negara award and last year received the Distinguished Researcher Award from University Malaya. Prof. Hany is a member of the paediatric oncology accreditation committee for the National Specialist Register, co-chair of the Viva-Asia Bone Marrow Transplantation Consortium and the immediate past president of the Malaysian Society of Paediatric Haematology-Oncology.
Translating Research into Personalized Therapy for Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia
Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the commonest paediatric malignancy, representing a third of all cancers in children. From being a uniformly fatal condition in the 1950s, childhood ALL has become one of the greatest success stories of cancer treatment history. Overall survival rates of >90% have been realized largely through the systematic conduct of multi-institutional clinical trials, improved knowledge of disease biology, along with increased expertise in supportive care. However, the journey to reach these outstanding achievements began with the breakthrough discovery of the folate antagonist, aminopterin, where it was used as monotherapy. Subsequently, more drugs were discovered leading to the development of combination therapies using cytotoxic agents of various classes. In tandem with drug discovery, research into discovering the heterogeneity of leukemic blasts and exploiting these for therapeutic gain was actively pursued. Subsequently, preservation of normal growth and development in affected children became an equally important benchmark for success. Thus, sequentially developed treatment protocols for ALL, as with for most other paediatric cancers, shifted focus to achieving a better balance between improving cure and reducing toxicities. Therapy was risk-adapted and increasingly personalized to reduce late-effects – the latter is now a major area of research due to the large population of survivors of this previously fatal disease. Modern oncology therapy dictates that there is no longer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ way of managing patients with various cancers and childhood ALL is one of the earliest cancers where disease biology determined, and continues to drive, treatment choices.