SA researchers in national team to find and destroy dormant cancer

07 Aug 2019
SA researchers in national team to find and destroy dormant cancer

South Australian researchers are part of a national team trying to attack dormant blood cancer cells hiding in bone marrow, potentially revolutionising diagnosis and treatment for thousands of patients.

“If we can target and eliminate the dormant cells, we will be in a position to eliminate the disease,” said Professor Andrew Zannettino, from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the University of Adelaide.

He is about to embark on a three year myeloma study after receiving a $600,000 grant from the Leukaemia Foundation.

The Strategic Ecosystem Research Partnership grant, announced today, will see Professor Zannettino work with experts from Sydney’s Garvan Institute and Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute to detect the presence of a group of dormant cancer cells through blood tests.

Prof Zannettino said these dormant cells lay asleep, buried deep in bone marrow and reactivated and multiplied, spreading across the body and attacking bones, turning them into “Swiss cheese”.

He said the researchers were hoping to use biomarkers in blood to identify these dormant cells and determine whether they were at risk of reactivating.

This discovery could pave the way for drug therapies to attack the dormant cells, keeping them at bay or destroying them completely.

Myeloma is a blood cancer that can return several times after treatment and becomes resistant to therapy over time.

Cases in Australia have increased 35 per cent since 2009.

The disease kills about 1000 patients each year

Adelaide mum Ann Bruce has undergone stem cell transplant, three rounds of radiation therapy and trialled three different chemotherapy drugs over the past 20 years after tumours and lesions repeatedly appeared in her bones.

“It’s always there in the back of your mind,” said the 64-year-old from North Haven.

“It’s a cancer that can come back at any time, very fast and it can be really hard to control.

“It never gives you a rest.”

Professor Zannettino is a Blue Lantern Ambassador for the Leukaemia Foundation’s annual Light the Night event in Adelaide on October 11.

This story is reproduced with permission from The Advertiser.