Blood cancers

Can a new biomarker in myeloma lead to faster treatment for patients who need it most?

Can you sum up the aim of this project in 10 words?
Advancing prognostic tests for patients with multiple myeloma who have the poorest survival outcomes.

You’ve identified a cell adhesion protein associated with particularly aggressive disease in multiple myeloma. What did you find?
Newly-diagnosed MM patients currently undergo lengthy genetic testing to match chromosomal mutations with the most potent drug/s to decelerate disease progression. This collaborative effort with Dr Craig Wallington-Beddoe and Professor Stuart Pitson recently discovered that a single cell surface protein, quickly identifiable by flow cytometry, is strongly predictive of poor clinical outcome, is independent of genetic subtype and independent of the routinely measured biomarkers of MM activity (e.g. paraprotein). This work is currently under revisions for publication in the journal Molecular Oncology.

What are the clinical implications?  
If successful, our work may change clinical practice with a shift away from lengthy genetic testing and towards flow cytometry to identify a single cell surface biomarker and quickly predict disease trajectory at the time of diagnosis. By quickly identifying poor outcome patients we will be able to administer the most appropriate and potent drug/s to decelerate disease progression.

What aspect of this research excites you the most?
What excites me most about this project is that as a group (with expertise in molecular biology, cell biology, cancer biology and clinical manifestations of MM) we have capitalised on our understanding of the fundamental biology of this deadly disease and translated that into scientific advances that we believe will significantly benefit patients with MM.

How long before this work might impact on patient care?
We are certainly in the discovery phase of this exciting research, but with the clinical lead of Flinders Medical Centre haematologist and Head of the Flinders University Multiple Myeloma Translational Research Laboratory Dr Craig Wallington-Beddoe, we are on track to translate this exciting discovery as quickly as possible.

What’s your Holy Grail – the one thing you’d like to achieve in your research career?
A scientific discovery that significantly improves the management and/or cure of a debilitating or deadly disease, such as MM.

What is your biggest research hurdle?
Funding and job security. Despite recent times wherein we have witnessed first hand the need for urgent and scientific rigour to manage a global pandemic, Australian scientists continue to fight for job security and basic funding. The Australian Society for Medical Research advocates for increased awareness and funds for medical research and their survey indicates that at the end of 2016, 1 in 4 Australian researchers did not have job security for 2017. They have also determined that every $1 invested into medical research returns $3.20 in health and economic benefits. More needs to be done to support Australian research.

Who has inspired you in work or life? 
The list is endless… I am blessed to be constantly inspired by everyone around me.

There’s an app for that. What’s new on your phone?
SLACK – it’s not exactly new to my phone, but I love how my team and I can keep in regular contact about anything and everything from wherever we are.

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