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Dr Kyle Matchett, Lecturer in Molecular Immunology at the Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine, Ulster University, has been awarded a five-year Career Establishment Award of £415,000 from The Little Princess Trust for his research into childhood leukaemia.

The research aims to better understand how childhood leukaemia develops, including the role of a key altered gene, and to create more effective, kinder treatments. Using advanced genetic approaches, Dr Matchett and his team will try to identify the Achilles’ heel of this gene alteration, which may lead to new therapies.

This grant is testament to the pioneering research that Ulster University is leading into childhood cancer and childhood leukaemia. As part of the grant, funds have also been allocated to develop a new NI Childhood Cancer Network, open to researchers, clinicians, charities and parent representatives to share knowledge and expertise.

Dr Matchett’s work is specifically focused on an aggressive childhood leukaemia called Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). Only six out of every 10 children diagnosed with AML will be expected to survive more than 5 years. These poor outcomes are further complicated by the severe therapy-associated side effects that children often experience during current treatment regimes.

Dr Kyle Matchett commented:

“It is an honour to receive this prestigious Little Princess Trust Career Establishment Award. It is an opportunity for me to advance my research into childhood leukaemia and develop a better understanding of how the disease develops and hopefully create more effective treatments for children living with this aggressive disease.

“Thanks to the grant, our research team will be able to develop new partnerships with scientists and clinicians throughout the UK and Ireland and indeed in Europe and the US, learning new techniques and implementing them here in Northern Ireland.”

The grant will also fund a new PhD studentship and Research Fellow to support the team.

This award represents one of the largest grants that The Little Princess Trust have awarded to date. It comes after several other awards for Kyle in recent years, including a Novartis Fellowship and Medal and the Early Career Research Excellence Award at Ulster.

Phil Brace, CEO, The Little Princess Trust said:

“We are very proud to collaborate with Ulster University in support of Kyle and his research group. Kyle's pioneering work is a perfect fit for the aims and objectives of the charity to find kinder and more effective treatments for childhood cancers. We look forward to seeing what this important work will achieve.”

For Leona Knox, childhood cancer is a subject close to the heart. Her son Oscar passed away from cancer in May 2014. She commented:

“Children with cancer need more and better treatment options, and I'm delighted to see Dr Kyle Matchett champion this area of research in NI. This significant investment from Little Princess Trust is testament to their confidence in his leadership and ability to make a real difference for those children with leukaemia who desperately need more novel therapies.”