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Leukaemia Foundation-funded research set to target lymphoma and paediatric blood cancers

Wednesday May 5, 2021

Lymphoma and children with blood cancer have been cast into the spotlight in the latest round of research funded by the Leukaemia Foundation through Cancer Australia’s Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme.

Established by Cancer Australia and managed in collaboration with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the scheme supports research that reduces the impact of cancer on the community and improves outcomes for people affected by cancer. It is designed to coordinate funding of priority-driven cancer research at the national level, bringing together government and other funders to collaboratively fund Australian cancer research and build Australia’s cancer research capacity.

Queensland’s Dr Kyohei Nakamura and South Australia’s Dr Hannah Wardill were among 10 successful applicants for the 2020 round as part of the scheme.

Cancer immunologist Dr Nakamura, who leads the Immune Targeting in Blood Cancers lab at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, has recently identified a immunosuppressive factor which could be responsible for resistance to antibody drug rituximab and other immunotherapies commonly used to improve outcomes for B-cell lymphoma patients. Dr Nakamura is now aiming to develop a novel therapeutic approach to improve the body’s immune response against this blood cancer.

Close to 7000 people are currently being diagnosed with lymphoma each year1. Projections also show the number of Australians diagnosed with a lymphoma will jump a further 147 per cent by 2035 – making for an extra 10,000 Australians being told they have lymphoma every year2.
Blood cancer in children is often treated with chemotherapy and transplantation of immune cells from a donor, however these donated cells can sometimes be treated as foreign by the child’s body, resulting in debilitating and potentially deadly graft vs host disease (GvHD). Dr Wardill, an NHMRC Early Career Fellow at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), will focus on GvHD in paediatric patients who undergo stem cell transplant by testing new ways to minimise or prevent GvHD by altering the gut microbiome.

Blood cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer for children aged 0-14 years in Australia. Right now, 413 children aged between 0-14 are being diagnosed with a blood cancer annually, however this figure is projected to more than double to 936 children each year by 2035.

“Over the past 10 years, we have seen lymphoma incidence rise by an enormous 37%, and sadly blood cancer is still accounting for more than 40% of all cancer diagnoses in children under 14 years. We also know GvHD can have an incredibly devastating impact the body and tragically also carries a 55% mortality rate,” said Leukaemia Foundation CEO Chris Tanti.

“These sobering statistics demand urgent attention and clearly demonstrate that there has never been a more important time to invest in crucial research projects like Dr Nakamura and Dr Wardill’s to improve treatment options and quality of life for those impacted by these diseases and associated complications.

“On behalf of the Leukaemia Foundation, I sincerely congratulate Dr Nakamura and Dr Wardill for their success and we look forward to seeing their research translate into improved results for Australians in our community living with lymphoma and paediatric blood cancer.”

Mr Tanti said accelerating research and providing access to best practice treatments are important foci for the Leukaemia Foundation and were identified as key priority areas in the organisation’s State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report and the National Strategic Action Plan for Blood Cancer.

“Research is a crucial tool to improve blood cancer survival rates, design better treatment pathways and ensure Australians can live well with their diagnosis,” he said.

“With more than 5,600 Australians losing their life to a blood cancer each year and more than 186,000 people expected to die from blood cancers by 2035, ensuring increased and sustained investment in research is a powerful key to drive down these figures and save lives.”

Over the past two decades, the Leukaemia Foundation has proudly invested more than $54.5 million into research, including supporting over 370 researchers across 290 research projects, through PhD scholarships and research grants, at over 50 hospitals, research institutes and universities.

The Leukaemia Foundation is committed to funding research the drives rapid advancements in treatments, diagnostics and novel therapies and gives Australians access to the latest treatments through clinical trials. More on the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program here.



Blood cancer signs and symptoms:
Symptoms of all blood cancers can sometimes be subtle or even similar to other conditions, such as a flu. However, ongoing symptoms like recurrent infections, increased fatigue, night sweats, bone pain, bruising or enlarged lymph nodes should be immediately discussed with your GP or specialist. Early diagnosis can play a key role in surviving blood cancer, so it is crucially important that you are examined and treated properly. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with a blood cancer, reach out to the Leukaemia Foundation on 1800 620 420. Accessing our support is free of charge.