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Miss Rebecca Delconte

PhD Scholarship

Researcher:          Rebecca DelconteMiss Rebeca Delconte

Institute:               Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical
                               Research (VIC)

Project title:          Exploiting natural killer cells in leukaemia

Disease focus:     Leukaemia

Annual Funding:  $40,000

Funding period:    2015-2017


Project summary  

Rebecca Delconte is investigating the role of natural killer (NK) cells in leukaemia. These specialised immune cells have the ability to detect and kill cancerous cells. However, leukaemia cells are able to evade NK cell death.

“I’m looking at how leukaemia cells survive NK death, the impact of increased NK cells and function on killing leukaemia cells, and the potential for using NK cell immunotherapy in treating leukaemias,” said Rebecca.

“In particular, I’m assessing the role of key genes involved in controlling NK cells. If these genes trigger an anti-leukaemia response, they may be potential targets for less toxic and more effective therapies to enhance NK cell activity against leukaemias.”

Rebecca’s research builds on critical discoveries made by her supervisor, Dr Nicholas Huntington and his research team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI). The team recently identified several genes involved in regulating NK cell function and development.

Working with laboratory models of NK cells and leukaemias, Rebecca hopes to understand the role of these genes in the interaction between leukaemia and NK cells, as well as identify the pathways that control NK cell numbers and activity.

In addition, Rebecca’s work involves developing laboratory models that could provide a platform for pre-clinical screening of other immunotherapies and investigating the toxicities of potential therapies on the human blood system.

“These models have the promise to streamline candidate drugs and therapies while eliminating those with toxicities before they enter expensive clinical trials. It has considerable potential to maximise drug safety and lower drug cost,” she said.