Childhood cancer and Indigenous health among raft of projects awarded MRFF grants

02 Jul 2021
Childhood cancer and Indigenous health among raft of projects awarded MRFF grants

SAHMRI and affiliated researchers from the University of Adelaide and Flinders University have been entrusted with Medical Research Future Fund grants for projects spanning aged care, Indigenous health, stem cell therapy and childhood cancer.

Professor Deb White, the Director of SAHMRI’s Cancer Program, a University of Adelaide, NHMRC and Cancer Council SA Research Fellow, leads a team that was awarded almost $1.3 million to improve outcomes for adolescents with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). The project will investigate the role of the immune system and the gut microbiota in the regulation of therapeutic response in adolescent ALL patients.

ALL is a leading non-traumatic cause of death in Australian children. Teenagers with ALL are also a vulnerable group that currently lack specifically designed therapeutic approaches. In a global first, this project will identify and analyse novel correlations between the gut microbiota, systemic and bone marrow immune composition, genomic subtype and the clinical response and toxicity of therapy, aiming to provide evidence for new therapeutic approaches.

This project is a collaboration with Professor David Lynn, a Flinders University and SAHMRI EMBL Australia Group Leader, and his team. The significant genomics and bioinformatics aspects of the project are supported by the SA Genomics Centre, a state-wide facility that was formed a year ago with its headquarters at SAHMRI.

Prof White’s Cancer Program colleague, Associate Professor Dan Thomas, will lead a $850,000 study into another blood/bone marrow cancer called myelofibrosis. Myelofibrosis is a poorly understood disease that evolves into leukaemia. A/Prof Thomas’s team has engineered stem cells to mimic myelofibrosis driver genes that can be used to test novel treatments and build understanding of how and why the disease occurs. This technology has already led to findings that will be tested as a pre-clinical data package for phase I trials in Australia.

Dr Yvonne Clark, Senior Research Fellow with the SAHMRI Women and Kids Theme, earned $675,000 to work with Aboriginal families to reduce cannabis and alcohol use and social stress during pregnancy. The team will work with families and services to develop and implement culturally-responsive, evidence-based strategies, to empower women and their support networks to address these issues. The study will gather information about the feasibility and acceptability of these strategies in two hospitals to inform broader implementation.

Dr Clark’s fellow SAHMRI Women and Kids Senior Researcher Dr Karen Glover has been awarded almost $1 million from the South Australian State Government’s “Closing the Gap” fund to study Aboriginal maternal and child health.

These recent announcements come soon after SAHMRI’s Aboriginal Health Equity Theme Leader, Professor Alex Brown, was granted almost $4 million to continue his team’s research into the disproportionate impact of diabetes on Indigenous Australians, particularly in relation to renal, cardiovascular and ophthalmological complications.

The Registry of Senior Australians at SAHMRI was also recently awarded almost $2 million from the MRFF to improve care and outcomes in residential aged care.