SAHMRI standing strong as national genomics leader

15 Sep 2020
SAHMRI standing strong as national genomics leader

A pair of publications by SAHMRI’s Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) Group have reinforced the importance of the team’s genomics work for uniting research and clinical practice. 

One of the projects was led by Dr Barbara McClure and published in the British Journal of Haematology. It catalogues the discovery and subsequent treatment of a rare type of ALL in a single patient. 

“This research was specific to that individual, but the knowledge gained and the lessons learned can have far-reaching benefits,” Dr McClure said. 

“Not all cancers are the same and not all ALLs are the same. Our research provides clinicians with knowledge that could help with more rapid and accurate diagnosis of disease at a genomic level.” 

Dr McClure says better diagnosis should lead to more treatment options and better outcomes. 

“People with cancer can undergo years of chemotherapy,” she said. 

“If we can identify genomics errors and add targeted therapy early on through correctly identifying these rare types of disease, it can reduce the amount of chemotherapy people have to endure.” 

The other project, led by SAHMRI and the University of Adelaide PhD candidate Michelle Forgione and published in Genes, Chromosomes and Cancer, was a review of evidence relating to another rare subtype of ALL known as MLLT10-rearranged ALL. 

“We’re analysing these rare mutations that are yet to be given the attention they need,” Ms Forgione said. 

Ms Forgione’s evidence review came about because of restrictions in response to COVID-19. 

“For a time there I couldn’t access the lab for my primary research projects, so I found a way to still be productive within the limitations,” she said. 

“Work like this, despite targeting rare conditions, fills knowledge gaps that can also benefit research into more common cancers and ultimately lead to improved patient outcomes.” 

This pair of projects further highlights the power of genomics to combat disease and SAHMRI’s pivotal role in the Australian Genomic Health Alliance. 

“We are the primary referral centre for ALL cases nationwide,” Dr McClure said. 

“We’re receiving a high volume of patient samples from doctors throughout Australia and through that, our team is rapidly building on knowledge about the genomics of ALL.” 

The fact that the samples SAHMRI’s ALL Group works with are from people who are currently fighting the disease makes the research more urgent but also more rewarding. 

“This goes beyond theoretical science, we’re in the privileged position of being able to have real-time impact for people living with this leukaemia,” Dr McClure said. 

This research was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, Cancer Council SA’s Beat Cancer Project and Zero Childhood Cancer

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