New hope for blood cancer patients

Protein that stops drugs used for acute myeloid leukaemia treatment found and suppressed

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MAJOR DISCOVERY: South Australian scientists have made a significant breakthrough in overcoming drug resistance in acute myeloid leukaemia.

MAJOR DISCOVERY: South Australian scientists have made a significant breakthrough in overcoming drug resistance in acute myeloid leukaemia.

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Scientists have made a breakthrough in getting around resistance to drugs used for treating a rare and devastating blood cancer.

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South Australian scientists have made a significant breakthrough in overcoming drug resistance in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a rare and devastating blood cancer that kills most patients within a few years.

In a new study published in the world-leading hematology journal Blood, researchers from UniSA and SA Pathology's Centre for Cancer Biology describe how they have discovered a way to suppress a specific protein that promotes resistance to drugs commonly used to treat AML patients.

Professor Stuart Pitson, one of the lead authors of the study, said the finding could revolutionise the treatment of AML, a disease that recently claimed the lives of SA football great Russell Ebert and professional golfer Jarrod Lyle.

"Each year in Australia, around 900 people are diagnosed with AML, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow characterised by an overproduction of cancerous white blood cells called leukaemic blasts," Prof Pitson said.

"These cells crowd out normal white blood cells, which then can't do their usual infection-fighting work, thereby increasing the risk of infections, low oxygen levels and bleeding."

SA Pathology haematologist Associate Professor David Ross said many AML patients initially respond to Venetoclax, a new therapy for AML recently listed on the PBS, but over time AML cells become resistant to it.

The CCB team is now working hard to optimise drugs targeting this pathway to take into clinical trials for AML patients.

"For most people with AML, the chances of long-term survival are no better now than they were last century," Prof Ross said.

"Now, we have a chance to remedy that. New treatments that prevent Venetoclax resistance have the potential to prolong survival, or even increase the chances of a cure in a disease for which improved outcomes are desperately needed."

AML is more common in adults (and men) over the age of 60. It accounts for about 0.8 per cent of all cancers diagnosed.

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