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Leukaemia Foundation and HSANZ to fund next generation of clinicians and researchers to tackle blood cancer

Wednesday, September 14 2022

  • Australia’s brightest researchers and clinicians awarded early career funding to pursue blood cancer research
  • The Leukaemia Foundation and HSANZ partner for better outcomes for blood cancer patients
  • Research projects a critical tool in reducing toll of blood cancer in Australia

The Leukaemia Foundation and Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ) have once again joined forces to award four of the country’s brightest early career researchers and clinicians with PhD scholarships aimed at improving the lives and outcomes of Australians living with blood cancer.

The scholarship recipients were announced at the ‘Blood 2022’ annual conference in Sydney last week and include Dr Sun Loo and Dr Jessica Elliott. Their research covers various topics including treatment to prevent relapse in AML, and optimising treatments for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

Leukaemia Foundation CEO Chris Tanti said the Leukaemia Foundation HSANZ PhD scholarships are an important part of the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program, with the four latest recipients joining a prestigious list of researchers and clinicians who have received the scholarships in the past five years.

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with HSANZ and announce the recipients of the four PhD scholarships. We extend our congratulations to Dr Sun Loo and Dr Jessica Elliott, who will undertake innovative and cutting-edge research projects as a result of the funding we’re able to provide,” said Mr Tanti.

“Research projects such as these are a critical tool to reducing the devastating toll of blood cancer in Australia. With 53 Australians diagnosed with blood cancer including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma each day, and a further 16 people losing their life to the disease, these scholarships are crucial to improving survival rates and accelerating research to achieve rapid advancements in blood cancer treatment.”

The partnership between the Leukaemia Foundation and HSANZ ensures that the research is of a high quality and that the brightest blood cancer researchers and clinicians in the country have an opportunity to make impactful discoveries and improve the outcomes for blood cancer patients and their loved ones.

“If we are to have any hope of reducing blood cancer mortality in this country, its paramount we continue to invest in Australian blood cancer research and support this next generation of researchers with the aim of leading us closer to better treatments, care and ultimately a cure for blood cancer.”

Accelerating research in blood cancer treatments is a key priority of the Leukaemia Foundation and by partnering with HSANZ who share the same goals, the depth of research that’s funded increases with the purpose of HSANZ to lead, communicate and support excellence in haematology through independent education, professional development and advocacy.

The PhD scholarship recipients research projects will further help to pave the way towards the Leukaemia Foundations bold goal of zero lives lost to blood cancer by 2035.

More on each recipient and their research projects below:

Dr Sun Loo – Treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia at the timepoint when small amounts of leukaemia cells are detected to prevent advanced disease

This important research project aims to shed light on whether treatment before relapse in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) patients can keep blood cancer at bay and ultimately reduce the chance of relapse.

An increased understanding of AML has led to the detection of very small numbers of leukaemic cells that remain after treatment, called minimal residual disease (MRD), which has thought to be the culprit for AML relapse.

Dr Loo’s research aims to report on a world-first clinical trial, the INTERCEPT study (opened August 2022), and addresses whether MRD-directed intervention in AML leads to improved outcomes by employing a tailor-made, precision medicine approach to treating patients with MRD failure.

The research is furthermore expected to contribute to understanding the differences between leukaemia cells when detected at the MRD stage, compared to when the disease is advanced.

Dr Loo said: “Ultimately, the goal is to prolong remission with the hope of improving long-term outcomes.”

Dr Jessica Elliott – T-cell versus T-cell biology: mechanisms and modulation of disease and therapy

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) is difficult to treat disorder that occurs as a result of our body’s T-cells developing abnormalities and attacking our own skin. CTCLs and are among the most poorly understood and difficult to manage blood cancers. Dr Elliott’s research aims to better understand the T-cell biology of CTCL and how T-cell modulating therapies may alter that immunology.

An allogeneic stem cell transplant is currently the only available treatment with curative potential for CTCL however patients face significant risk of transplant-associated complications, most notably the risk of life-threatening skin graft vs host disease (sGVHD).

A form of light therapy called extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) has been effectively used to treat both CTCL and sGVHD, however the process by which ECP works in these divergent conditions is not well understood nor the mechanisms driving treatment response and resistance.

Dr Elliott’s research will investigate how allogeneic stem cell transplantation and ECP alter the immunology of malignant and allo-aggressive T-cells in CTCL and sGVHD and aims to improve and optimise treatments to help more people survive these disorders. It’s also hoped it will more broadly improve the understanding of T-cell biology, eventually translating into better treatments for disorders bought about by abnormal T-cells.

Dr Elliott said: “While there is an emerging body of research investigating T-cell modulating therapies for B-cell leukaemia and lymphoma, there are still many unanswered questions when it comes to the application of these emerging therapies to T-cell mediated disorders – the so-called ‘T-cell versus T-cell therapies.”

Learn more about how the Leukaemia Foundation research is helping to save lives at

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Last updated on April 13th, 2023

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