Leukaemia Foundation and HSANZ Jointly Funds Three PhD Investigators
The Leukaemia Foundation and the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ) are proud to announce the co-funding of three Australian Clinical and Science PhD investigators, whose work will focus on understanding blood cancer biology and the development of new diagnostics and precision medicines.
“It is paramount that we continue to invest in Australian blood cancer research and support the next generation of medical and science investigators whose work examines emerging and cutting edge therapies with the aim to lead us closer to better treatments, care and ultimately a cure for blood cancer,” Leukaemia Foundation’s CEO Bill Petch said.
The funding is the latest from the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program which has seen more than $47 million invested into blood cancer research since 2002.
Over the past 16 years, the Leukaemia Foundation’s 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.
The Leukaemia Foundation’s investment into research has contributed to development of new techniques and therapies many of which are now undergoing either clinical trial or are currently being used in the clinic including Venetoclax, Bortezomib, CAR T-cell therapy and liquid biopsies for blood cancers (a world first). Its research funding has resulted in more than 450 international, peer reviewed, academic research publications and 577 presentations given at national and international conferences.
“The Leukaemia Foundation is proud to have supported the academic and research careers of almost every senior haematologist in Australia. Over the years, our investment in research has contributed to significant advancements in understanding the genetic makeup of blood cancers, diagnostics, novel drug development and testing through clinical trials,” Mr Petch said.
“We are thrilled to continue this tradition with this latest round of PhD scholarship appointments.”
President of HSANZ Dr William Stevenson said the support from the Leukaemia Foundation was appreciated.
“We are delighted to partner with the Leukaemia Foundation to jointly support and offer scholarships to the best junior scientists and clinicians undertaking blood cancer research through our PhD program. All three investigators’ projects demonstrate strong clinical experience, a commitment towards patient-focused care and an ambition to contribute towards the blood cancer community with their research,” he said.
Appointed through the Leukaemia Foundation and HSANZ PhD Scholarship Program, the research projects are worth $360,000 over the next three years commencing 2019. The Leukaemia Foundation thanks the Bill Long Charitable Trust, managed by Equity Trustees and Bridgestone Australia for their contribution to the program.
All recipients were chosen by the Leukaemia Foundation and HSANZ Scholarship Committee selection panel and were awarded at the recent 2018 Blood conference in Brisbane. Details of the three PhD investigators and their research projects include:
- Dr Wei Jiang (Haematologist – Westmead Cellular Therapies Group, Sydney)
Dr Wei Jiang will be conducting two trials to establish the clinical safety and efficacy of T-cell immunotherapies for infection and malignancy; and the detailed functional, phenotypic and molecular changes in patients’ blood post T-cell therapy.
The research team will conduct a clinical trial of autologous CD19 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells generated using the PiggyBac system for relapsed or refractory B-cell malignancies such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and lymphoma. This is revolutionary research, as CAR T-cells can be generated with this technology for a fraction of the cost of those produced using viral vector, making CAR T-cells more affordable to patients. This research aims to establish the safety and efficacy of PiggyBac CAR19 T-cells in a cohort of 20 patients.
This research will also examine into pathogen-specific T-cells for therapy resistant viral infections after an allogenic haemopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT), which can lead to significant morbidity and mortality. Dr Jiang and his team will run a Phase lll study assessing the safety and efficacy of administering banked 3rd party donor derived infection-specific T-cells to patients with resistant viral infections such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV or adenovirus).
- Dr Karthik Nath (Haematologist – Mater Research Institute, Queensland)
The research undertaken by Dr Nath aims to develop a deeper understanding of the biology of Follicular Lymphoma (the second most common Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma) by employing evolving genetic and molecular laboratory technologies in prognostic paradigms.
Dr Nath and his team aims to incorporate these elements into upfront prognostication in Follicular Lymphoma that would represent a practical means of improving diagnostic techniques and treatment approaches with real-world applicability.
The second part of the research aims to help engender precision medicine in the treatment of patients with Follicular Lymphoma. By applying patient-specific immunological, molecular and genetic markers in prognostication, the research team is confident they will improve patient outcomes through individualised treatment approaches.
Utilising these highly specific markers may also help the greater research community understand disease processes and be incrementally beneficial to public health medicine. The team is hopeful individualising treatment will empower patients and reinforce the importance of psychosocial aspects involved in cancer care.
- Elizabeth Lieschke (Scientist – Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Victoria)
Ms Lieschke’s research investigates the mechanism by which tumour suppressor gene, Tp53, prevents the development of leukaemia, lymphoma and other cancers; and the processes by which activation of Tp53 kills malignant cells.
The study aims to understand why some blood cancer cells die, whilst other cancer cells undergo cell cycle arrest/cell senescence and are therefore more likely to relapse following cancer therapy.
Ms Lieschke and team hopes to identify biomarkers that will enable the team to predict the nature of the response of cancer cells to drugs that activate Tp53, and leading to therapies that will be more personalised and targeted.
Mutations in Tp53 occur frequently in blood cancers that relapse following therapy and for these patients, the prognosis is extremely poor.
A deeper understanding of the impact of mutations in Tp53 on the expression of critical genes involved in tumour suppression will inform the design of novel therapeutics that could act downstream of Tp53, and efficiently kill mutant Tp53 expressing blood cancers. The team believes such therapies are desperately needed because they would improve the prognosis for blood cancer patients.
The Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand aims to promote, foster and develop the discipline of haematology in all its aspects and particularly provides support and advocacy for research in haematology.