Leukaemia Foundation welcomes new cancer discovery in the development of new therapies for blood cancer | Leukaemia Foundation

Leukaemia Foundation welcomes new cancer discovery in the development of new therapies for blood cancer

Wednesday, 02 April 2014


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The Leukaemia Foundation welcomes today’s announcement of the discovery of a protein that makes cancer cells invisible to the body’s natural defenses, saying it is pleased to have played a role in opening up a new therapy pathway in the fight against blood cancer.

Today, QIMR Berghofer scientist Mark Smyth and his team have announced the discovery of CD96 protein prevents the body’s natural immune cells from responding to cues from cancer cells.
“Every day, our bodies fight off cancer, because our Natural Killer cells – or NKs – instantly recognise cancer cells as alien, and destroy them,” Professor Smyth said.

“But we’ve discovered that NKs have the CD96 protein on their surface, and this protein stops NKs from being overactivated. Essentially, the cancer hijacks this process to prevent immune recognition and activation, allowing the cancer to spread through the body.
“What this discovery provides us with is a clear path for new treatments for advanced cancers, because we can develop an antibody to block CD96, now that we know it is an immune checkpoint inhibitor,” he said.

In 2009, The Leukaemia Foundation funded the early stages of vital research, awarding a Grant-in-aid to Associate Professor Ricky Johnstone and Professor Mark Smyth at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for their research project – Development of new therapeutic approaches to treat leukaemia and lymphoma.

Head of Research & Advocacy at the Leukaemia Foundation, Dr Anna Williamson said this project was a good example of where seed funding generated the data that can lead to substantial funding, in this case from the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

“This is a really crucial discovery, and affirms the need for a long-term commitment to research,” Dr Williamson said.

“Now that we know the role of CD96 in hiding cancer cells from the body’s immune system, researchers can look at how it may be ‘switched off’ or ‘turned down’, meaning it may be possible for the body to kill the cancer by itself,” she said.

Since 2005 alone, the Foundation’s National Research Program has invested almost $34 million to find better treatments and cures for blood cancer.
“In our commitment to fund the best researchers with the best ideas, all applications for our research awards are assessed and selected by an independent expert peer review committee.

“The members of these panels are volunteers who generously donate their time and expertise. Without their support the Foundation couldn’t fund the research we do,” said Dr Williamson.
Dr Williamson said it was also important that understanding the basic biology of cancer was leading to the development of new therapies to manage cancer and hopefully to cure people with cancer.

“This is a really exciting development and we congratulate Professor Smyth and his team for bringing us this new knowledge of how cancer works.

“Blood cancer research is at the cutting edge of better understanding cancers overall, and we hope the work of this team can be developed into a new therapy for people with blood cancers and maybe other cancers too,” Dr Williamson said.

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For media enquiries and interviews, please contact:

Helen Humphrey
Communications and Marketing Manager
M: 0418 746 483
E: hhumphrey@leukaemia.org.au