Leukaemia Foundation HSANZ PhD scholarship for Monash University researcher
Monday 18 November 2019
The Leukaemia Foundation and the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ) are proud to announce Dr Liesl Butler from Monash University has been awarded a $120,000 New Investigator PhD scholarship for 2020.
The funding will support Dr Butler’s research into developing improved biomarkers and targeted therapies for the chronic blood cancers known as Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPNs) to improve the ability to detect, treat and predict the course and outcomes for the 1,205 Australians diagnosed with the disease each year.
“MPNs are lesser known than many blood cancers and recent research shows that like all blood cancers, their incidence and mortality rates have been underestimated and underreported,” Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said.
“Unfortunately, as with all blood cancers and disorders, this means we will see more Australians diagnosed with this disease in coming decades.
“Dr Butler’s research will focus on furthering understanding of MPNs by investigating the gene mutations and biological pathways that lead to the development of these diseases, with a view to advancing therapeutic options and improving clinical outcomes for Australians living with the disease.”
MPNs occur when bone marrow stem cells grow and reproduce abnormally. In patients with MPN, abnormal stem cells produce excess numbers of one or more types of blood cells (red cells, white cells and/or platelets). These abnormal cells cannot function properly and can cause serious health problems unless properly treated and controlled.
People with MPN have an increased risk of the disease transforming to an acute leukaemia depending on the subtype – essential thrombocythaemia (4%) Polycythaemia vera (9%) and myelofibrosis (21%).
“It’s paramount we continue to invest in Australian blood cancer research and to support the next generation of researchers – like Dr Butler – to examine emerging and cutting-edge therapies with the aim to lead us closer to better treatments, care and ultimately a cure for blood cancer,” Mr Petch said.
The Leukaemia Foundation HSANZ New PhD Scholarships are part of the Leukaemia Foundation National Research Program which has seen more than $50 million invested into blood cancer research since 2002.
“Over the past 17 years the National Research Program has supported 355 researchers and co-investigators to undertake 260 research projects through PhD scholarships, clinical and post-doctoral fellowships and research grants,” Mr Petch said.
“The investment into research has contributed to the development of many new techniques and therapies which are now either undergoing clinical trials or are being used in clinics as part of everyday therapy. This includes treatments like Venetoclax, bortezomib, CAR T-cell therapy and liquid biopsies for blood cancers – a world first.”
Accelerating research and providing access to best practice treatments was also identified as one of the Leukaemia Foundation’s key priorities in the recently released State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report. The report showed accelerating research has the potential to further reduce the mortality rates and economic costs of blood cancers, which are projected to claim more than 186,000 lives between now and 2035 – equal to more than 1.4 million years of potential life lost.
The Leukaemia Foundation receives no ongoing government funding, and the National Research Program relies on the continued support of generous donation. To find out how to support the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program call 1800 620 420.
“Donations allow us to continue to invest in Australian blood cancer research and to support the next generation of researchers, driving this type of innovative research for better treatments, better care and ultimately a cure for blood cancer,” Mr Petch said.
- Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are a group of disorders in which the bone marrow stem cells grow and reproduce abnormally.
- MPNs are sometimes described as being clonal blood stem cell disorders. This means that they result from a change, or mutation, in the DNA of a single blood stem cell.
- In MPN the original mutation is preserved when the affected stem cell divides and produces a ‘clone’: a group of identical stem cells all with the same defect. Mutations in dividing cells occur all the time and healthy cells have sophisticated mechanisms within them to stop these abnormalities persisting. But the longer we live, the more chance we have of acquiring mutations that manage to escape these safeguards.
- MPNs are usually described according to the type of blood cell which is most affected. MPNs are closely related diseases, so it’s not uncommon for people to have features of more than one MPN when they are first diagnosed, or during the course of their illness.
- The three main forms of MPNs – polycythaemia vera , essential thrombocythaemia and myelofibrosis, There are also rarer, sub sets of the disease.
- MPN is more commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 50 although it can rarely occur in younger people, even very more rarely in children. Most people with an MPN have no family history of the disease.
- Many people have no symptoms when they are first diagnosed with an MPN and the disease is picked up accidentally during a routine blood test or physical examination.
- Symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, itchiness, night sweats and raised blood pressure.