Paradigm shift in new short-term, highly targeted leukaemia therapy

By / 10th of June, 2014

RESEARCHERS from the University of Adelaide's Centre for Personalised Cancer Medicine and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) have established a new, short-term treatment strategy for leukaemia.

They have found that cancer cells decide whether to live or die after a short period of intense exposure to targeted therapy, against the current requirement for long, continuous treatments.

It's a discovery that could significantly reduce side effects in patients. Director of Cancer Research at SAHMRI, Professor Deborah White, said the discovery is "paradigm shifting."

"In our research, we're looking for methods that will result in the cancer cell killing itself. This would provide an improved treatment and reduce the risk of cancer relapse. Our findings are not just applicable to chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) therapy, but to all targeted cancer treatments," Professor White said.

University of Adelaide PhD student and research team member Lisa Schafranek has been studying the effects of blocking a common protein known as STAT5.

"The activity of STAT5 appears to be a critical determinant of the decision for cancel cells to live or die. Our research has found that by blocking STAT5 in conjunction with exposure to a regular anti-cancer treatment, we were able to more effectively target the leukaemia cells. We also better understand the timing required for the combined treatment to be effective," Schafranek said.

The team's findings have been published online ahead of print in the journal Leukemia.

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Key contacts

Deborah White Director of Cancer Research SAHMRI
61 08 8128 4302
David Ellis Media and Communications Officer University of Adelaide
61 8 8313 5414
Bridgette Whittle Media Contact SAHMRI

Theme leaders of SAHMRI:

  • Professor Stephen Nicholls in charge of Heart Health, with the aim of advancing the ability to prevent, detect and treat a range of cardiovascular disease states.
  • Professor Alex Brown in charge of Aboriginal Health, with the goal of overcoming chronic disease and other issues that will improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people and communities.
  • Professor Julio Licinio in charge of Mind and Brain, examining the connections between metabolic and inflammatory processes and mental health; research at the intersection of neuroscience and mental health.
  • Dr Charles Mullighan in charge of Cancer, with a focus on translational research in haematology malignancies.
  • Professor Maria Makrides in charge of Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children, with the aim of building a state-wide centre that is internationally recognised for improving the health and lives of young families.
  • Professor Steve Wesselingh in charge of Infection and Immunity, with a focus on microbiome and metagenomics research.
  • A yet to be recruited expert will also head up a research unit dedicated to Nutrition and Metabolism.