Million-dollar investment into incurable blood cancer announced as Light the Night launches this week | Leukaemia Foundation

Million-dollar investment into incurable blood cancer announced as Light the Night launches this week

Tuesday 6 August 2019

The Leukaemia Foundation will unveil a million-dollar investment into Strategic Ecosystem Research Partnership (SERP) grants which will use new state-of-the-art immunotherapy techniques, new drug design and molecular technology to understand the mechanisms of relapse and continue to drive rapid advancements in treatments for the incurable blood cancer, myeloma.

The new funding announcement comes as the Leukaemia Foundation opens registrations for this year’s Light the Night. More than 35,000 Australians affected by blood cancer will come together at Light the Night events across the country to support each other, shining a light on the impact of the disease in Australia.

Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, affects more than 140,000 people worldwide each year. Over 2000 Australians will be diagnosed with myeloma in 2019, and it accounts for 20% of all blood cancer related deaths.

In recent years, a large number of new drugs have been developed to treat myeloma, which has seen patients living longer without evidence of disease. Unfortunately, despite these improvements, essentially all myeloma patients will eventually stop responding to therapy and will experience relapse.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Bill Petch said the Leukaemia Foundation was committed to changing these statistics.

“We are committed to helping to further improve treatments and survivability of myeloma and all blood cancers. With funds raised through events like Light the Night, we will continue to invest in the most innovative research projects with the strongest potential.”

“Continued investment in these projects and these researchers is the key to ensure advancements are funded and are able to reach their full potential to improve the lives of people living with this disease, not just in Australia but across the world,” Mr Petch said.

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are mature lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) that help fight infection by producing special proteins known as antibodies or immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins (Ig) are produced by plasma cells in response to bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances found in the body.

Myeloma develops when plasma cells undergo a cancerous or malignant change and become myeloma cells. These myeloma cells multiply without any proper order and accumulate in the bone marrow in different parts of the skeleton I.e. spine, skull, pelvis, ribcage.

Myeloma is just one of many blood cancers. To show your support and continue to raise funds for ground-breaking research such as the SERP grants, please register your interest at www.lightthenight.org.au.

“Blood cancer doesn’t discriminate. It affects men, women, children and adults across every town and region in Australia. Attending Light the Night is an opportunity for communities to come together, show their support and make a significant difference,” Mr Petch said.

The SERP grants are the latest investment from the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program which has seen more than $50 million invested into blood cancer research since 2002. The Leukaemia Foundation SERP grant recipients are:

Professor Andrew Zannetino (SAHMRI), Professor Peter Croucher (Garvin Institute of Medical Research) and Professor Mark Smyth (QIMR) – ($600,000 over 3 years) 

Professor Andrew Zannettino Interim Executive Dean and Professor of Experimental Haematology in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide and head of the Myeloma Research Laboratory, based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

Professor Peter Croucher Head of the Osteoporosis and Bone Program and now leads the Division of Bone Biology, The Garvan Institute of Medical Research, New South Wales.

Professor Mark Smyth Senior Scientist and Immunology Coordinator (QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Queensland) 

The work being undertaken by Professors Zannettino, Croucher and Smyth focuses on why myeloma patients’ relapse. Their studies have identified a population of myeloma cancer cells that appear to be dormant or in a “sleep like” state, which are hidden away or ‘buried’ within the bone marrow. These dormant cells persist following therapy and can be reactivated or ‘woken-up’ to grow at a later stage, leading to disease relapse. To cure myeloma, it is therefore essential to kill these rare, therapy-resistant dormant cells.

This research will identify new markers of myeloma cancer cell dormancy that will be used to specify which types of treatments are likely to have the most favorable clinical outcomes for myeloma patients and using new state of the art immunotherapy techniques develop a treatment that can target and kill these dormant cells.

Associate Professor Daniel Gray (WEHI) – ($150,000 over 2 years) 

Joint Head of the Immunology Division at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Associate Professor Gray and his team are using a new technology, called mass cytometry, to study how blood cancers develop resistance to therapy. This innovative approach allows researchers to analyse millions of individual cancer cells from a single drop of blood in unprecedented depth.

By analysing samples obtained from patients before, during and after therapy, they can begin to identify the various ways that different blood cancers resist treatment that drives relapse. Asc Prof Gray and this team will also extend this analysis to acute lymphoblastic leukaemia with the aim to understand how cells resist treatment in order to design better treatments for these patients.

Associate Professor Jake Shortt – (Monash Haemotology) – ($285,000 over 2 years) 

Associate Professor Jake Shortt is the Head of Haematology Research at the School of Clinical Sciences and clinical lead at Monash Haematology for leukaemia and myelodysplasia

Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cell – a cell which normally functions as a protein factory to generate antibodies for the immune system. This feature seems to make myeloma particularly vulnerable to treatments that disrupt protein processing and regulation within the cell. Indeed, the two most active and frequently used myeloma treatments Velcade and. Revlimid – work in this way. Asc Prof Shortt has been able to identify a new target within the Myeloma cells which when treated with a new small ‘drug like’ molecule kills myeloma cells in a completely new way.  Preliminary tests have shown this new drug is even effective on myeloma cells that are resistant to existing treatments.   This project will now further develop this new small ‘drug like’ molecule to accelerate progression to human trials.

– ENDS –

About Light the Night 

This October, more than 35,000 people will gather to walk at Light the Night events across the country. Carrying lanterns in symbolic colours of blue, white and gold, family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will come together for an evening and a reflective walk to support all Australians impacted by blood cancer. Lantern holders can also help raise vital funds to support families living with blood cancer and towards investment into life-changing blood cancer research.

Lanterns are raised high in a moving ceremony to pay tribute to those facing their own blood cancer journey and to remember loved ones lost, creating a glowing sea of support. Together, the crowd then carries their lanterns along a reflective walk to Light the Night. It’s an empowering, beautiful and supportive event that brings family and friends together to reflect, remember and show their support. For more information, please visit https://lightthenight.org.au/.

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