Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation




Better Prognosis for Leukaemia

Breakthrough Treatment To Fight Drug Resistant Cancer


Better Prognosis for Leukaemia
First Published: Enews - February 2012


The FMC Foundation has just given a grant to a project investigating the immune system's role in chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) to determine which patients can safely stop their treatment without relapse.


CML is a blood disease where the bone marrow produces too many white cells. In the early stages of the disease the symptoms are often mild, but without treatment CML can transform to acute leukaemia.


It is treated by drugs such as imatinib, which can kill the cancerous cells and keep the disease at bay but which often causes a range of mild side effects that can affect a person's quality of life.


Dr David Ross from the Department of Haematology and Genetic Pathology says CML patients whose tests indicated no detectable leukaemia had the opportunity to come off imatinib as part of a clinical trial run by the Australasian Leukaemia & Lymphoma Group.


Some of the patients who entered the study have now been in remission without any treatment for more than 5 years. However, some patients relapsed within a few months of stopping treatment.


"In the clinical trial that we began in 2006 we have found that the CML came back in 60 per cent of patients who ceased treatment," Dr Ross said."These patients re-started imatinib and brought the disease under control again."


"This indicates that the cancer often remains in patients at very low levels even if it is undetectable in the routine blood test," he said.


Together with Lesley Snell from Genetic Pathology and Dr Peter Macardle from Immunology, Dr Ross hopes to determine why the cancer reappears in some patients and not others. He believes differences in the immune response to CML may offer an explanation.


"People traditionally haven't thought of response to imatinib involving the immune system," Dr Ross said. "We want to investigate whether the immune system is suppressing the low levels of cancer and preventing it from returning."


The new grant will allow the team to determine whether the presence of particular types of immune cells can influence whether patients are at lower risk of relapse.


"Being able to inform patients whether or not they can come off the drug without worrying about relapse will improve their quality of life, and could save considerable costs to the healthcare system," Dr Ross said.


He said the research will also inform future projects which could improve treatment for leukaemia.


"If we can determine whether the immune system plays a role in the regulation of CML we may also be able to stimulate this immune response against leukaemia by strategies such as vaccination," he said.



Breakthrough Treatment To Fight Drug Resistant Cancer
First Published: Investigator - February 2005


The treatment of cancer primarily comes in two forms, chemotherapy and radiotherapy but it is not uncommon for cancer to be or become resistant to this therapy.


There are new therapies available that are showing advances in the treatment for cancer but despite this, doctors are still facing drug resistance which ultimately leads to cancer relapse.


This defiance has led Flinders researchers to make this a focal point particularly in understanding the mechanism behind the resistance. They are centering their attention on neuroblastoma and acute leukemia.


Neuroblastoma is one of the most common solid tumours of early childhood usually found in babies or young children. It is a cancer of specialised nerve cells called neural crest cells which are involved in the development of the nervous system and other tissues.


Dr Bryone Kuss from the Department of Haematology and Genetic Pathology at Flinders and her team have explored the role of certain drug resistance genes in neuroblastoma and are looking at new approaches for the treatment of neuroblastoma and acute leukemia.


“By understanding the molecular pathways involved in the development of the disease, new approaches to cancer therapy can develop. We are working at a DNA level experimenting with ‘silencing’ those genes that are showing drug resistance” said Dr Kuss.


DNA molecules were designed that switch off a drug resistant protein found in the gene. These molecules were then used to determine their effectiveness against neuroblastoma tumour cells.


‘Our studies surprisingly showed that not only can the gene be turned off and make cells more effectively treated with chemotherapy, but also turning off the gene resulted in reduction of the tumour size without additional therapy”


Cancer has proven itself to be a very changeable entity but our researchers are confident that one day they will win the fight against drug resistant cancers.

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