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The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) is proud to be funding new research into leukaemia treatments which has made exciting breakthroughs for patients suffering from the debilitating blood cancer, myelofibrosis (MF).

The research is being done through the Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB), led by Dr David Ross, on a new immune therapy targeting MF.

“Myelofibrosis is a terrible disease, patients have an average life expectancy of 5-10 years,” Dr Ross said.

Dr David Ross“Patients may suffer debilitating symptoms including abdominal pain, lethargy, drenching sweats, weight loss, and bone pain.

“It has recently been discovered that a protein called CD123 is found in high levels on MF stem cells.

“This protein is also present in leukaemia, where an antibody has already been developed. In fact, an important part of this antibody research was done here at the CCB in Adelaide.”

The project being funded by THRF will test the antibody on MF cells, using blood samples collected from many of Dr Ross’ patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) and Flinders Medical Centre.

“We will measure the amount of CD123 on the MF disease cells and test whether the same antibody can trigger killing of the MF cells in a test tube,” he said.

“We will also test whether adding an immune-stimulating chemotherapy drug can also help the antibody kill the MF cells.

“Because the treatment is already available, we can potentially turn this discovery into a clinical trial for MF patients within 1-2 years.”

Understanding MF

Understanding how MF works and the mechanisms behind its current drug treatment available to patients has also been a long-term focus of the CCB.

The standard treatment for MF – a drug called Ruxolitinib – makes patients feel better but cannot arrest the progression of the disease.

A phenomenon discovered by CCB scientific biochemist Dr Denis Tvorogov within the lab of Professor Angel Lopez, helps explain how the drug performs in the body. This discovery was published in international journal Science Advances this week.

Prof Lopez noted the importance of open and strong collaborations across major cancer centres to make discoveries that impact directly on patients’ lives.

“The work shows the fundamental mechanisms of how the drug Ruxolitinib works in patients with myelofibrosis, and points to a future where better drugs still could be made for these patients,” Prof Lopez said.

“The work was possible thanks to a collaborative effort that included the three Universities in the new Biomed Precinct launched by Health Minister Stephen Wade last Friday, SA Pathology, SAHMRI and the RAH, as well as major cancer centres in Melbourne and Stanford, USA.”

The CCB brings together scientists like Dr Tvorogov and clinicians like Dr Ross to work on practical problems that affect cancer patients.

“Our work provides new clues as to how to make better drugs for this disease and could provide better long-term outcomes for the MF patients,” Dr Tvorogov said.

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