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Breakthrough in early detection of leukaemia resistance to therapy

Publish Date: 28/7/2016

An Adelaide research team have made a world-first breakthrough in the early detection of resistance to a common treatment for chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).

Dr Laura EadieFormer Leukaemia Foundation PhD scholar Dr Laura Eadie at the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the University of Adelaide's School of Medicine has developed a new test that she believes could be adopted by doctors worldwide.

Offering hope for people with CML, lead author and postdoctoral researcher Dr Eadie says the test will help personalise the treatment strategies that can be used for people with CML; helping doctors pre-emptively change the treatment strategy before a person relapses, loses response to their therapy, develops mutations or experiences disease progression.

Dr Laura Eadie says one-in-five people with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) are resistant to the leading treatment of their condition.

"About 20 percent of people have a poor response to Glivec, the drug which targets the mutant protein that causes their leukaemia, however until now we haven't fully understood why,” said Dr Eadie. “Unfortunately, this means that one-in-five people could be receiving treatment that ultimately is not benefitting them, losing response to therapy and reducing their chances of survival."

The study looked at the role of P-glycoprotein, a protein that pumps many drugs – including Glivec – out of leukaemia cells.

The research team's work shows, for the first time, that assessing a person’s levels of the P-glycoprotein soon after they start receiving Glivec therapy will help to predict their long-term response to the drug.

"This new test, developed in our laboratory, may provide an opportunity for doctors around the world to change treatment strategies for those most at risk of doing poorly on Glivec before they actually lose response to the therapy," said Dr Eadie.

Crediting her Leukaemia Foundation-funded PhD scholarship as the platform for her science career, Dr Eadie says the Foundation’s supporters have helped with the progress of her research into CML.

“I started this research while doing my PhD and these were the first steps towards our discovery,” said Dr Eadie.  “By supporting the Leukaemia Foundation you are contributing to the best and brightest researchers who are passionate about making discoveries that will benefit not just Australians with blood cancer, but people worldwide.”

Dr Anna Williamson, Leukaemia Foundation Head of Research and Advocacy said the organisation is proud to see one of its PhD funded scholars, continuing to unravel the mysteries of CML.

“Dr Eadie’s research in CML is changing our understanding of the development of resistance to standard treatments in some people,” said Dr Williamson. “For the one-in-five people who develop resistance, Dr Eadie’s discoveries may enable the treating team to change strategies to ensure each person continues to respond to treatment.

The Leukaemia Foundation receives no ongoing government funding and relies on community generosity to continue its vital research into improving treatments and finding cures for blood cancer. Find out more about our National Research Program or make a generous donation today.

The results of this research are now published online ahead of print in the international journal Leukemia or for more information visit SAHMRI.

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