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Inhibiting immune cell function to improve stem cell transplant outcomes in leukaemia

Lead researcher

Prof David Ritchie, A/Prof Nicholas Huntington

The University of Melbourne

Tumour type:

Years funded

What is the project?

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is the most common blood cancer treated with stem cell transplantation (SCT). This treatment cures AML by allowing donor immune cells to grow within the patient’s body after strong doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but the cells can contribute to post-transplant complications including graft-versus host disease (GVHD).

Our laboratory is investigating how the patient’s immune cells, in particularly natural killer (NK) cells may affect GVHD. We will use mouse models of SCT and AML to explore how inhibiting the function of NK cells can improve the anticancer effects of SCT, and reduce the risk of tissue damage. Our innovative approach lessens the risks associated with SCT and utilises therapies that are already available.

What is the need?

SCT patients undergo pre-transplant conditioning with high doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to kill their immune cells, so that the transplanted donor cells are not rejected, and can engraft to kill tumour cells. The strong treatment leaves patients vulnerable to developing infections and other complications.

What are you trying to achieve?

We seek to improve the effectiveness and safety of SCT through using targeted therapies that will also result in the opportunity to offer transplants to a wider group of patients. Our project will also repurpose clinically approved drugs such as Venetoclax and Ruxolitinb in order to suppress patients’ natural killer cell function prior to SCT. So if successful, our preclinical studies will transition into clinical practice more rapidly.

Funding Body

Cancer Council Victoria Research Grant