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Hibernating cancer cells - waking up the elephant in the room

Publish Date: 8/12/2016

Aiming to identify new therapeutic approaches for blood cancers, clinical haematologist and bone marrow transplant physician Associate Professor David Curtis presented his research program to the BDHP Blood Cancers Group Seminar in November.

The Director of Malignant Haematology Research at the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases, Monash University - Alfred Hospital, spoke of the challenges relating to people with acute leukaemia who respond to chemotherapy, but relapse often.

“We believe one of the important reasons for relapse is that there are some leukaemia cells which are not killed by the chemotherapy and that’s because they are hibernating essentially, like a bear, and they’re protected from the cold or the chemotherapy,” said Assoc Prof Curtis.

It is hard to isolate the hibernating cells in humans, but using mouse models of leukaemia, Assoc Prof Curtis has been able to replicate what happens in humans and wake the hibernating cells up - making them more responsive to the chemotherapy.

“Ideally, our research will allow the hibernating cells to ‘wake up’ and we will be able to personalise treatments that are already available before the person undergoes chemotherapy, or at the same time, or maybe even once they’ve gone into remission,” said Assoc Prof Curtis.


Urging people with acute leukaemia to “become part of the solution” Assoc Prof Curtis said patient involvement with clinical trials of new treatments will help to bring researchers closer to a solution, as will vital funding.

Thanks to generous community support the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research program was able to provide Assoc Prof Curtis seed funding which helped his team form the research program.

“The Leukaemia Foundation’s support has been absolutely critical as we’ve had no real improvement in the cure rate for acute leukaemia in the last 20 or 30 years,” said Assoc Prof Curtis. “This is absolutely vital because if you don’t have that foundation you’re just not going to make those big jumps. And that is what we need now.”

Your thoughtful donation will provide crucial funding for Australia’s leading blood cancer researchers who are working to improve treatments and find cures.

For information on upcoming seminars please contact the Leukaemia Foundation today on 1800 620 420.

The BDHP Blood Cancers Group Seminar is proudly presented by the Leukaemia Foundation, Amgen Oncology and Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners.

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