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Roll up your sleeves regularly to support blood cancer patients

Roll up your sleeves regularly to support blood cancer patients

The Leukaemia Foundation is challenging more Australians to step up and become one of the 18 monthly blood donors it takes to treat just one person living with blood cancer this National Blood Donor Week.

More than 100,000 Australians are currently affected by blood cancer, and Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said many of these people require regular donated blood products to manage their cancer, either as part of a life-saving treatment plan or to counter the side effects caused by their cancer treatment.

“For some people with chronic blood conditions and cancers, their blood isn’t functioning properly at all, so they rely on donated blood products to replace their blood so they can live a normal life,” he said.

“In other cases, the blood cancer treatment the patient undergoes actually kills their blood cells which puts them at risk, so they need donated blood products to replace the functions these cells would usually have performed.

“What many people don’t realise is the sheer volume of blood needed to support blood cancer patients, regardless of their situation.

“One 470ml blood donation unit includes red cells, plasma and platelets which are all separated out after donation. The reality is that on average, one acute leukaemia patient will need nine units – or 2.25 litres – of red blood cells alone each month, or just over 1 litre (36 units) of platelets each month during treatment.

“On a practical level, this means for every blood cancer patient, we need around 18 Australians to roll up their sleeves every month – not just once, but for every month of that patient’s treatment time, which can be anything from eight months on average through to a number of years for some blood cancer types.

“With 35 people every day diagnosed with a blood cancer in Australia and this number expected to increase to close to 50 people per day by 2025(1), we know more Australians will become critically reliant on blood products into the future.

“The need for blood products to support blood cancer patients doesn’t stop, so neither should blood donations, and that’s why we want to see more Australians making blood donation part of a regular routine rather than a once-off exercise.”

Australian Red Cross Blood Service spokesperson Erin Lagoudakis urged more Australians to give blood now and give blood often to support Australians in need, including cancer and blood disease patients who receive the majority of all blood donations.

“People may be surprised to learn more than a third of the blood donations we collect support cancer patients and those with blood diseases,” Ms Lagoudakis said.

“Many of us will know someone or have a loved one who may need blood in their lifetime, including those who need blood during surgery or child birth and those involved in road accidents, so we’re encouraging those who can to donate.”

The Leukaemia Foundation has thrown its support behind National Blood Donor Week, with several members of the Leukaemia Foundation team recently donating blood together at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service Brisbane Donor Centre.

“We want to encourage all our team members who are eligible to donate and who have never donated before to take the leap and become donor legends, and it is our hope that more organisations will follow suit and donate to support the growing number of people in our community living with blood cancer,” Mr Petch said.

National Blood Donor Week runs from 9-15 June and includes World Blood Donor Day on June 14.

To join the fight against blood cancer by making a blood donation, visit


Could the immune system hold the key to curing follicular lymphoma?

Could the immune system hold the key to curing follicular lymphoma?

Professor Maher Gandhi

Professor Maher Gandhi leads the first research group in the world to investigate a new therapeutic approach for follicular lymphoma (FL) that includes harnessing a patient’s own immune system.

“We need a new way of looking at things,” said Professor Gandhi, who was recently appointed CEO of Mater Research (Brisbane).

While several groups around the world are looking at the properties of cancer cells, his Brisbane-based research team is “spending a lot of time on the properties of the immune cells” in FL.

And he’s expecting “a big breakthrough” later this year for this research project that recently was awarded funding of $200,000 as part of the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program*.

Trying to cure an incurable subset of FL

Prof. Gandhi’s interest in follicular lymphoma – the second most commonly diagnosed form of lymphoma – is both personal and professional.

“A lot of my patients have this [FL] and I find it very challenging that we can’t cure them, so it’s always been a passion of mine to try and cure it,” said Prof. Gandhi.

“We can cure FL in a small subset, and to try and extend that to a bigger subset is something I feel very motivated by.

“There also are particular features of this lymphoma, from a scientific point of view, that have always intrigued me. And I’ve always believed FL was a cancer influenced by the immune system.”

FL occurs in older patients and there are two kinds. In 15-20% of cases, the FL is “very isolated in a small group of lymph nodes”. For the other 80-85% of cases, “it’s more advanced”.

“What’s interesting is that in the small group, it seems FL is curable in a proportion of them, but in the other patients, it’s incurable – it can be treated and controlled but it comes back, and it never goes away,” said Prof. Gandhi.

“What we want to do is look at that small group and find out what the molecular features are that actually means that it can go away. Our data so far suggests it’s due not so much to the biology of a lymphoma cell, but the surrounding immune cells.

“In some cases, those immune cells are very common, and these patients do much better. In other cases, the immune cells are hardly there at all, and they do much worse.

“If we can confirm this, it’s quite important, because it might suggest that the best way to treat FL is to profile the tumour at diagnosis and in cases where very few immune cells have infiltrated the lymphoma, we could possibly design new therapies that actually cause the immune cells to infiltrate the lymphoma.

“Maybe we should be using the patient’s own immune system to help fight their lymphoma,” said Prof. Gandhi.

“We’ve looked at a group of Brisbane patients, have confirmed our findings with groups internationally, and now we’re trying to confirm the findings in larger groups of patients including a group of patients from a clinical trial.

“This involves working with investigators at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Melbourne).”

A new approach

Prof. Gandhi explained that some patients with FL are treated with chemotherapy, some with antibody therapy, some have radiotherapy, and some get all three.

“We don’t know which is best, or what combination is best, but we do know that even by giving all three therapies, there are some patients who aren’t cured.

“So whatever we do, it’s not ideal. We need a new way of looking at things which is why we’ve taken the approach we have, because it suggests that we need a new approach that harnesses the patient’s own immune system as well.

Prof. Gandhi said initial funding for this research, from the National Health and Medical Research Council, was very important.

“It meant I could finally do that [comprehensively analyse early stage FL], but the monies were never enough to answer all the questions, so the additional funding from the Leukaemia Foundation will really enable me to address this properly and more rapidly,” he said.

“It will be used to appoint a post-doctoral researcher to work on this project for two years, starting in July.

“Because we had already started work with the NHMRC funding, we’re going to have some results this year.

“Our work is very advanced. Our results are very interesting indeed. We are quite excited by the findings.

“I expect we’ll get our big breakthrough this year,” said Prof. Gandhi.

“We’re hoping to show that we can identify people who are more likely to do badly and that it is related to their immune system. And our work might be the basis of a clinical trial in which we could test this.”


*This funding is part of the Leukaemia Foundation’s Strategic Ecosystem Research Partnerships (SERP) and was made possible thanks to generous individual supporters and the estates of Beverly Simersall and Dorothy Ruth Forest.