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Early exposure to germs could help prevent ALL, UK Professor says

Early exposure to germs could help prevent ALL, UK Professor says

New analysis released today by the Institute of Cancer Research, London, has identified a possible link between children genetically predisposed to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and a lack of exposure to germs in the first years of life.

The analysis, developed by Professor Mel Greaves from the Institute of Cancer Research and based on three decades of research, suggests today’s clean homes and lack of exposure to common bacteria and viruses during the first year of life could attribute to higher diagnoses rates.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) affects one in 2,000 children and was considered “lethal” in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, approximately 90 per cent of children will be cured, but only after lengthy and often gruelling treatment regimes which can have life long side effects.

Professor Greaves’ research suggests the incidence of the disease is caused through a two-step process – the first being a genetic mutation that occurs in the womb, and the second exposure to infection.

One in 20 children are born with the genetic mutation that puts them potentially at risk, with only one percent of those going on to develop the disease. However, Professor Greaves’ research suggests that the disease may not progress at all if these genetically predisposed children were exposed to common infections earlier in life.

The insight has been described as a “paradox of progress” in today’s modern society, where children are kept in such clean environments they lack exposure to microbes leading to reduced immune systems.

Professor Greaves said the incidence of the disease was increasing at around one per cent each year in clean, modern societies across the world. However, in poorer countries, where there was a lack of hygiene and larger families which exposed young children to early infection, ALL rates were “low or non-existent”.

“The research strongly suggests that ALL has a clear biological cause, and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed,” Professor Greaves said.

“It also busts some persistent myths about the causes of leukaemia, such as the damaging but unsubstantiated claims that the disease is commonly caused by exposure to electro-magnetic waves or pollution.

“I hope this research will have a real impact on the lives of children. The most important implication is that most cases of childhood leukaemia are likely to be preventable,” Professor Greaves said.

He is now investigating whether early introduction and exposure to harmless, common germs could help the disease developing.

“It might be done in the same way that is currently under consideration for autoimmune disease or allergies – perhaps with simple and safe interventions to expose infants to a variety of common and harmless ‘bugs’.”

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch has described the research as another piece in the puzzle of childhood leukaemia and a promising step toward a cure of tomorrow – however more research needed to be done into the cause of the disease.

“Research like this provides us with a piece of the puzzle to understanding this disease and it’s important to remember that there is still a lot to learn about leukaemias,” Mr Petch said.

“The Leukaemia Foundation strongly advocates for more research and continued global collaborations to bring us closer to a future were we see no more children affected by cancer.”


More research needed to understand Australia myeloma burden

More research needed to understand Australia myeloma burden

The rate of myeloma in Australia is increasing due to an ageing population, according to the results of a new study.

Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that help fight infection.

As myeloma cells multiply, they crowd the bone marrow and prevent it from making normal numbers of red cells, white cells and platelets.

Analysis by researchers at the University of Washington showed Australasia had the highest rate of myeloma (5.8 cases per 100,000 people) out of 21 world regions.

Our National Myeloma Co-ordinator, Jo Beams, says there is no reason for alarm but the research highlights the need for greater awareness and more research on risk factors.

“The research in recent years has actually shown myeloma is much more complex than we thought,” Ms Beams said.

“The key with myeloma outcomes is being diagnosed before it causes organ damage, in particular to the bones and kidneys.

“Obviously better treatments are going to translate into better outcomes for people.

“In the last three decades, myeloma’s had one of largest absolute increases in survival rates. That is really thanks to the better treatments that we’ve had been made available.”

The research, which showed the global incidence of myeloma had risen significantly during the past two decades, was published in the JAMA Oncology journal.

May is Myeloma Awareness Month in Australia. The Leukaemia Foundation is running special events across the country about the what, how, when and why of the disease. Click here to see our full list of events and RSVP.

Leukaemia Foundation officially launches new home base in WA

Leukaemia Foundation officially launches new home base in WA

Australians diagnosed with a blood cancer such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, will now be able to stay at the Leukaemia Foundation’s brand new purpose-designed self-contained accommodation units located in Stirling Cross, close to Perth treatment centres and Leukaemia Foundation services.

It’s the first time all of the Leukaemia Foundation’s essential services will be based in one central location in the organisation’s 25 year history in Western Australia. In the past ten years alone, the Leukaemia Foundation in Western Australia has provided more than 27,000 free nights of accommodation, as well as more than 12,500 trips through its patient transport service.

There are ten fully equipped one and two bedroom apartments as part of the new Stirling Cross facilities which will now provide families from regional Western Australia and other states with vital accommodation when they are forced to relocate to Perth for life saving, blood cancer treatment.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said the new units represents a significant milestone for the Leukaemia Foundation supporting West Australians living with blood cancer.

“For the majority of people living in rural and regional areas of Western Australia, a blood cancer diagnosis means they have to move immediately to Perth and begin treatment; for many, within 24 hours of diagnosis,” Mr Petch said.

“To relieve this stress and financial burden, the Leukaemia Foundation offers free accommodation to these people and their families while they are undergoing treatment in Perth.

“With the co-location of accommodation with our blood cancer support services and administration office, we will be close at hand in a brand new, safe and secure ‘home-away-from-home’, with incredible amenities and, importantly, all major treatment hospitals accessible within 25 minutes of the complex,” Mr Petch said.

The Leukaemia Foundation will lease 10 apartments for accommodation after the generous support of former West Australian and Businessman of the Year Adrian Fini. The services include a ground-floor commercial space where the fit out and furnishings were supported through a personal donation by Mr Fini and his wife Michaela as well as funding from the Western Australian Government through Lotterywest.

“This is an exciting outcome for the Leukaemia Foundation and will help ensure people living with blood cancer in Western Australia are able to access high-standard accommodation options,” Mr Petch said

“The Leukaemia Foundation receives no direct or recurrent government funding, so we are very mindful of how we spend the money we raise. This is a cost-effective accommodation solution allowing us to be responsive in delivering a vital service, close to essential amenities and accessible to the major treatment hospitals of Perth.

Bone density treatment slows progression of leukaemia

Bone density treatment slows progression of leukaemia

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Researchers may have unlocked a vital key to reducing the progression of leukaemia in children, potentially prompting a change in thinking around the best way to target treatment.

In research published in the Nature journal, Leukemia, a team led by Telethon Kids Cancer Centre researcher Dr Laurence Cheung described how they had identified the mechanism of bone loss that occurred during the development of leukaemia – which, when treated, was able to reduce leukaemia progression.

Dr Cheung said the team’s study focused on the most common form of leukaemia in children, a subtype of Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) known as pre-B ALL.

When we created a pre-clinical model replicating this kind of leukaemia, we witnessed substantial bone loss during the development of the cancer,” Dr Cheung said.

“We went back to the literature and found that more than a third of children diagnosed with pre-B ALL had symptoms of bone pain and skeletal defects at the time they were diagnosed – suggesting leukaemia cells can alter their surrounding environment.”

The researchers wanted to discover what was causing the bone loss, and identified a signal produced by the leukaemia cells which instructed cells in the microenvironment – known as osteoclasts – to eat away at the bone.

The team used a commercially available drug called zoledronic acid – already known to be safe for children and used to treat brittle bone disease – to target the cells in the microenvironment around the leukaemia cells.

Latest leukaemia research

Bill Petch, CEO of the Leukaemia Foundation, said it was exciting to see zoledronic acid being explored by childhood leukaemia researchers.

“We know that zoledronic acid is currently successfully used in adult Myeloma patients to treat bone deterioration and density loss and while it has some side effects, these are known to be minimal,” he said.

“Importantly, prevention of bone loss during treatment may have significant implications for later in life. As failure to accrue appropriate bone mass during childhood may place survivors at increased risk for deficits in bone density and fracture.

“We are in a promising new age of both understanding how blood cancers develop, how they operate in the body and how best to treat them as individual diseases.

“Targeted therapies or personalised medicine for specific diseases are a big part of the paradigm shift of treatment. The Leukaemia Foundation strongly supports and encourages expediting any research of its kind.

“Working together to improve survival and quality of life for people diagnosed with a blood cancer is paramount.

“This research is in early stages and therefore more investment, research and trials are needed in this area, however it is a step forward to ultimately provide better outcomes for children diagnosed with ALL.”

The Leukaemia Foundation congratulates Telethon Kids Institute Researchers for the development of this research.