Dr Debbie Watson. Photo supplied by NSW Cancer Council.

Cancer Council NSW grant for graft-versus-host disease investigation

Cancer Council NSW has awarded almost $9 million of new funding to 13 ground-breaking cancer research projects.

The chosen world-class research teams are leading the charge towards a cancer free future by investigating new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

IHMRI’s Dr Debbie Watson from UOW’s School of Chemisty and Molecular Bioscience has been awarded $448,365 over three years to investigate measures to prevent graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a major complication in the treatment of blood cancers.

“My team aims to uncover new and exciting treatment approaches for blood cancers that prevent GVHD, while retaining immune responses to cancer and infection,” said Dr Debbie Watson.

Blood cancers, like leukaemia and lymphoma, develop when blood cells are not made properly.

“I am so grateful to Cancer Council donors for supporting my research into new treatment strategies for blood cancers,” added Dr Watson.

In Australia, over 6,400 new cases of lymphoma and 4,200 cases of leukaemia are expected to be diagnosed in 2019.

Blood cancers are usually treated with high dose chemotherapy or radiation which knocks out the immune system.

About half of cancer patients will also undergo a donor stem cell transplant. While transplantation is a curative therapy for some people with blood cancer, there is a risk of developing GVHD.

“Cancer Council funding has enabled me to continue my research on a debilitating disease known as GVHD that continues to be a major complication following donor stem cell transplantation in people treated for blood cancer,” acknowledged Dr Watson.

Following donor stem cell transplantation, the immune system is restored and the donor immune cells can attack the cancer. However, donor immune cells (graft) can also attack organs (liver, gut, skin and lungs) in the person with blood cancer (host) resulting in graft-versus-host disease.

GVHD is a debilitating and painful disease that attacks the organs, including the liver, skin and gut.

It occurs in around half of people who receive a donor stem cell transplant and can cause organ damage and failure, and in some cases can cause death.

Mark Phillips, Chair of NSW Cancer Council Board, Dr Debbie Watson and Jeff Mitchell CEO of NSW Cancer Council at the 2019 Cancer Council NSW Research Awards on Thursday 14 March. Photo supplied by Cancer Council NSW.

Mark Phillips, Chair of Cancer Council NSW Board, Dr Debbie Watson, and Jeff Mitchell CEO of Cancer Council NSW at the 2019 Cancer Council NSW Research Awards on Thursday 14 March. Photo supplied by Cancer Council NSW.

Current treatments for GVHD broadly suppress the immune system, which can lead to cancer relapse or infection.

“We are extremely proud to announce another round of extraordinary projects in 2019. We are confident these projects will provide incredible value to cancer patients and continue to push our progress towards a cancer free future,” said Dr Jane Hobson, Research Grants Manager at Cancer Council NSW.

Funds have been awarded to projects deemed through peer review to be of the highest scientific merit; and through consumer review to be of the most value to the community supporting Cancer Council.

The majority of the 13 projects – awarded to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, University of Wollongong, University of Newcastle, Melanoma Institute Australia, Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, University of NSW, Macquarie University, Children’s Cancer Institute Australia for Medical Research and The University of Sydney – are three-year Project Grants.

Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

t: 4221 4702

m: 0417 044 867

e: louisenegline@ihmri.org.au

Top photo: Dr Debbie Watson. Photo supplied courtesy of Cancer Council NSW.

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