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Genes may hold key to leukaemia survival | 2020 Metcalf Prize winner: Steven Lane, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

February 10, 2021

Clinical haematologist Associate Professor Steven Lane wants to lift the survival rates of his leukaemia patients. He thinks the key could lie in the genetic fingerprints of the blood cancer stem cells that proliferate the disease.

Steven is studying how these cells become resistant to treatment through genetic changes. He will use the knowledge to develop more effective and tailored therapies, both to prevent and treat potentially fatal relapses.

In recognition of his leadership in stem cell research, he has received one of two annual $55,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

Associate Professor Steven Lane.

Credit: QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

About 1000 Australians each year are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer. Under current trends, three quarters of people with AML die within five years of diagnosis.

Steven’s lab at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane is tackling AML and other blood cancers. He also treats patients at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

“Leukaemia often responds to chemotherapy initially, however the disease often comes back after this and we have very limited curative options,” he says.

“New treatment options are desperately needed.”

Steven’s work has focused on identifying the stem cell populations that give rise to leukaemia, and he wants to know how some cells respond to current therapeutic approaches and conversely, why some cancerous cells become resistant to treatment.

“One of our key findings in the past 12 months has been understanding the way the blood condition myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) develops from normal blood stem cells and how that progresses from MDS to acute leukaemia,” he says.

Steven’s lab has profiled the genetic make-up of different types of leukaemia, and is now mapping the effectiveness of different chemotherapy treatments against genetic variations.

He says that each patient with leukaemia has a unique genetic fingerprint, and this genetic information is a powerful predictor of chemotherapy response.

“We could take that genomic information and apply it to these therapies, particularly for patients who might have relapsed, and offer them hope of a new treatment,” he explains.

Steven had a distinguished early career working with some of the world’s leaders in stem cell and blood disorder research at Harvard Medical School and in international collaborations. He now leads his own research team in the understanding and treatment of blood disorders.

Video: Tailoring leukaemia treatments to reduce relapse: Steven Lane was awarded a 2017 CSL Centenary Fellowship (credit: CSL)

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