A Salisbury city councillor who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is hoping that new research, funded by Leukaemia UK, could help dramatically reduce the impact that harsh treatments can have on those diagnosed.  

Councillor Charles McGrath, 28, was diagnosed with AML in 2022 after developing breathlessness, repeated chest infections and recurring cold sores. These symptoms became even more apparent when he was visiting friends in hilly Bristol and struggled to walk around the city.

A blood test led to his diagnosis and Charles then spent nearly three months going in and out of hospital whilst he had three rounds of chemotherapy. A further round left him with pneumonia in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Now in remission, Charles has been able to return to his role as a councillor and as a marketing executive for a technology company, with regular blood tests to monitor his condition.

Charles, who is a councillor for the Milford ward, said: “In the week leading up to my eventual leukaemia diagnosis, my symptoms escalated rapidly. I was on paracetamol four times a day.

“Yet, leukaemia has been an education for me. I’ve learnt about myself, my mortality and my newfound desire to live life to the full.”  

Every year, almost 3,100 people in the UK are diagnosed with AML, but just 13.6% of people survive longer than five years after their diagnosis. Treatments include chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, but they can cause harsh side effects. 

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Professor Terry Rabbitts, professor of molecular immunology at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, is exploring a new approach to targeting AML cancer cells to minimise the impact of treatment.

Professor Terry Rabbitts said: “Sometimes chromosomes break and are joined to other chromosomes. If this happens it can result in ‘fusion proteins’ – these only occur in cancer cells, so they are specific targets for treatment. My team and I will explore a new approach to targeting fusion proteins by channelling antibodies inside cancer cells.   

“We have already begun a new technology that will allow us to deploy antibodies inside cells. Our aim is to get them to bind with the fusion proteins inside cancer cells to destroy them.” 

Fiona Hazell, chief executive of Leukaemia UK, said the treatments for AML have “remained largely unchanged since the 1960s”.

Charles added: “I’m delighted to hear about Prof Rabbitts’ research, which aims to unlock kinder, more targeted treatments for people diagnosed with AML. Whilst the intensive chemotherapy I had thankfully put me into remission, it has taken a major toll on my broader health and, in scientific terms, is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”