How research is helping children like Flynn
Project lead: Dr Hannah Wardill, South Australian Health and Medical Institute (SAHMRI)
The fight after treatment: graft versus host disease
For some children with blood cancer, a stem cell transplant may save their life. Sadly, this same treatment can result in a debilitating and potentially fatal side effect called graft versus host disease (GvHD), where the donor cells treat the child’s body as foreign. GvHD can attack organs, often leading to irreversible damage and life-long symptoms or even death.
Dr Wardill’s gut research
Dr Wardill is focused on improving life for children who’ve undergone a stem cell transplant by testing new ways to minimise or prevent GvHD.
Her research, funded by the Leukaemia Foundation through Cancer Australia’s Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme, is focusing on altering gut health to fight GvHD.
The project aims to prevent the disease by using a technique called Faecal Microbiota Transplant or in simple terms a poo transplant into the gut, straight after the stem cell transplant.
Dr Wardill who proudly describes herself as a self-described “poo-thusiast”, “We want to repopulate the microbes in the child’s gut using poo collected from their stem cell donor,”
She hopes that her research will not only improve the number of children surviving blood cancer, but also ensure they go on to lead happy and fulfilled lives.
A year in hospital fighting GvHD
“In 2017, my son Flynn was diagnosed with an incredibly rare leukaemia called Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukaemia. It only had one possible cure – a stem cell transplant. Flynn unfortunately developed ‘acute GvHD’ within weeks of the transplant, which attacked his liver, skin, and gut.
After months of healing, he then developed ‘late acute GvHD’. Flynn thankfully healed from both GvHD complications, but it was a very traumatic time, spending most of that year after transplant in hospital.
This research gives me hope that in the future, kids like Flynn won’t have to suffer from this awful side effect and can get back to enjoying the childhood they deserve sooner.”
– Laura, mum of childhood leukaemia survivor, Flynn.
Did you know?
- Over 400 children are currently diagnosed with blood cancer in Australia each year.
- In Australia, 50-70% of people who undergo a stem cell transplant will develop GvHD.
- Tragically, 55% of people with acute GvHD will lose their life to the disease.
These sobering statistics show the critical importance of investing in innovative projects like Dr Wardill’s research. It’s your support that’s helping to unlock new treatments and ways of preventing complications – which ultimately means saving lives. Thank you.