Support for improving leukaemia treatment outcomes

Support for improving leukaemia treatment outcomes

7 March 2018
Clinician PhD student Dr Edward Chew has received a $25,000 Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) Foundation Illumina Cancer Research Grant to improve treatment outcomes for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

Dr Chew, who is also a clinician at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, is co-leading the study with Dr Ian Majewski and Professor Andrew Roberts.

At a glance

  • AML genomics research led by Dr Edward Chew has received a RCPA Foundation Illumina Cancer Research Grant
  • The grant will support research into why only half of AML patients respond successfully to treatment, in order to find ways to improve patients’ outcomes
  • Using advanced genetic sequencing technology, Institute bioinformaticians will analyse masses of data from patient leukaemia samples to identify the critical factors leading to a successful patient outcome after treatment.

Better treatments needed for AML

Dr Edward Chew receiving award
A Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA)
Foundation Illumina Cancer Research Grant will support
Dr Edward Chew's research into AML. Dr Chew (R) is
pictured with RCPA President Associate Professor Bruce
Latham. Image credit: Sally Abboud Photography/RCPA

AML is an aggressive blood cancer. Approximately 900 new cases of AML will be diagnosed this year in Australia. Despite advances in treatment and patient care, fewer than half of these AML patients will be alive at 5 years after their diagnosis. 

Researchers are hoping to improve outcomes for a common type of AML called core-binding factor AML by understanding why some patients are cured of their cancer and why for others, who received exactly the same treatment, their AML comes back or relapses. 

Dr Chew said most people went into remission with therapy but for some patients the leukaemia relapses – an event that can happen anytime from a few months to a few years after treatment. 

“At this point, no one knows why some patients respond successfully and others don’t. Our study is aiming to change that. 

“If we can get to the bottom of what makes certain forms of this cancer so resistant to therapy, we will have the information needed to develop targeted treatments that can protect vulnerable patients from relapsing,” he said.

A deeper understanding through genomics

Scientists outside a lab
Award winner Dr Chew (L) and Illumina representative
Mr Timothy Daykin

Advances in next generation sequencing (NGS) technology have made possible fast and comprehensive analysis of cancer samples.

Bioinformaticians Ms Anna Quagleri, Dr Christoffer Flensburg, and Professor Terry Speed are helping to make sense of data from individual tumours to identify key differences in their genetic code.

Dr Chew said the teams were looking for vital differences between the cancers that responded to treatment versus the tumours that did not. 

“We are using NGS to analyse samples from 60 patients collected through the Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Our goal is to identify the genes that are influencing poor patient outcomes and making tumours resistant to therapy. We hope our findings will lead to new strategies and approaches for more successful treatment outcomes in the future for our patients,” he said.

The study is conducted in collaboration with research and clinical partners within the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. The Leukaemia Foundation of Australia supported the study through initial Grant-in-Aid funding and a Clinical PhD Scholarship to Dr Chew.


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