Blood cancer research supported with $5m grant

31 March 2022
A team of blood cancer experts led by WEHI’s Professor Andrew Roberts AM has received the 2021 Fiona Stanley Synergy Grant Award, to advance research into why some blood cancers become resistant to treatment.

The Melbourne-based team of nine researchers and clinicians aim to find new ways of preventing or overcoming treatment resistance, to improve outcomes for patients with leukaemias, lymphomas and myeloma. The Fiona Stanley Synergy Grant will provide $5 million in funding over five years for the collaboration.

Fiona Stanley Synergy Grant Award recipients led by
Professor Andrew Roberts (bottom row, middle)

Led by Professor Roberts, the collaborative research team involves Dr Mary Ann Anderson, Dr Piers Blombery, Associate Professor Gemma Kelly, Dr Enid Lam, Associate Professor Edwin Hawkins, Professor David Huang, Professor Constantine Tam and Professor Andrew Wei.

Issued by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Synergy Grants support outstanding multidisciplinary teams of investigators in Australia. They are among the prestigious awards presented at the NHMRC’s annual Research Excellence Awards ceremony in Canberra.

At a glance

  • A WEHI-led collaboration involving blood cancer experts from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Royal Melbourne Hospital, The Alfred Hospital, University of Melbourne and Monash University has received the 2021 Fiona Stanley Synergy Grant Award.
  • The grant will help progress a major collaborative research effort that aims to identify why some blood cancers become resistant to treatment, with the aim of finding new ways to prevent or overcome this resistance.
  • The NHMRC award is further recognition of WEHI’s decades-long commitment to improving treatments for patients with blood cancers including leukaemias, lymphomas and myeloma.

Fighting treatment resistance

Professor Roberts is joint head of WEHI’s Cancer Research and Treatments theme and a clinical haematologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

His major research interests are the development of new treatments for blood cancers through translational and clinical research.

Professor Roberts, who is also the Metcalf Chair of Leukaemia Research at the University of Melbourne, said the key to eliminating incurable blood cancers was to understand what underpins their resistance to treatment.

“Armed with that knowledge, we can design ways to use targeted therapies to improve outcomes and potentially deliver cures for people with these tough diseases,” he said.


Collaborative success

Synergy Grants are allocated to outstanding multidisciplinary teams of investigators who work together to answer major questions that cannot be answered by a single investigator.

Blood cancers comprise 10 per cent of all cancer diagnoses and are responsible for three per cent of all deaths in Australia. There are currently no preventative or screening strategies available.

Potential resistance to cancer treatments, or the re-emergence of cancer after treatment, are key barriers to finding effective therapies for some blood cancers.

Professor Roberts said the multifaceted team of lab and clinical scientists were working together to understand the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of blood cancer resistance to targeted therapies.

“The biology of incurable blood cancers is very complex and will require a coordinated and concerted team effort to steer research towards finding potential solutions for these challenging cancers,” he said.

“Only through collaborations like these can we make rapid and meaningful progress.”

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