7 Nov 2019

2019 CCS research highlights: Australian Centre for Blood Diseases

L-R: Oliver Le Grice, Ross Dickins, Emilia
Simankowicz, Margherita Ghisi. Ross,
Emilia and Margherita are co-authors
Monash University's Central Clinical School is at the cutting edge of medical research in national and international arenas. We are publishing a series of our research highlights from across 2019.

In this article, we feature a highlight from the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases.

Old cells, new tricks: study challenges our understanding of leukaemia

Each year in Australia more than 1000 people are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), an aggressive blood cancer. Less than one-third of AML patients survive five years beyond diagnosis.

Researchers from the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases (ACBD) led by Associate Professor Ross Dickins discovered a key reason why this disease is so difficult to treat – and therefore cure.

AML is characterised by overproduction of immature white blood cells called ‘leukaemia stem cells’ that fail to mature properly. These crowd the bone marrow and prevent it from making normal blood cells, causing anaemia, infections, and if untreated, death.

For decades it has been thought these immature cells lose their cancerous properties when they mature, prompting the development of new drugs that force cancer cells to ‘grow up’.

However, Associate Professor Dickins’ team found that AML cells can ‘turn back the clock’ to become immature again, meaning that even mature AML cells can make a major contribution to future leukaemia progression and therapy resistance.

“Our study highlights the need to eradicate all tumour cells irrespective of maturation state.”

The study, conducted with Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research researchers and international collaborators, was published in the prestigious journal Cell Stem Cell.

See more detail in our feature story.

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