Scientists identify new possibility for untreatable blood cancer

Published: Comments:
Community Health & Wellness Science & Research


Scientists have discovered a new biomarker that could help to unlock the medical mystery behind an untreatable blood cancer that affects mostly older Australians.

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Immunology in Cancer and Infection senior scientist Professor Mark Smyth and clinician researcher Dr Kyohei Nakamura worked with colleagues in France to make the discovery about multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma grows in the bone marrow and affects around 1800 Australians every year. The average age of diagnosis is 70 years. The study found a particular molecule called IL-18 supressed the immune system to help create a bone marrow environment where cancer was more likely to grow.

The study analysed the impact of IL-18 on 152 patients with multiple myeloma and found strong evidence that high levels of the molecule were associated with poorer survival.

Professor Smyth said IL-18 was responsible for promoting the immune suppressive function of a particular kind of white blood cell (granulocyte) in the bone marrow.

He said the resulting suppression hindered another kind of immune cell, known as a T cell, from doing its job of finding and destroying cancer cells.

“IL-18 has traditionally been recognised as a growth factor for immune cells because it was thought to promote the activity of the white blood or ‘natural killer’ cells that protect us from infection and cancer,” he said.

“We’ve turned that thinking on its head with our discovery that IL-18 is actually a pro-tumour factor, which causes virtually the opposite effect.

“IL-18 is critical in the progression of multiple myeloma by enabling one part of the immune system to suppress another.”

Professor Smyth said bone marrow IL-18 levels were a potential biomarker for predicting a person’s disease prognosis as well as a potential target for new multiple myeloma treatments.

“Our research shows IL-18 could be an independent prognostic factor, which is very significant,” he said.

“Practically speaking, the higher a person’s IL-18 levels in the bone marrow, the greater the likelihood their immune system is suppressed. That means their prognosis is not as good.”

Dr Nakamura said the findings could one day influence the way patients were treated for multiple myeloma.

“If a person’s prognosis is not as good because they have higher levels of IL-18 in the bone marrow, a doctor might choose to treat the patient more aggressively,” he said.

Dr Nakamura said the discovery was vital to building a better understanding of what caused inflammation in the bone marrow that lead to the development of multiple myeloma.

“Multiple myeloma creates a really inflammatory microenvironment inside the bone marrow,” he said.

“We want to understand the molecular processes underpinning that inflammation.

“This will help us to determine whether this biology is unique to the bone marrow and multiple myeloma, or whether it is also present in other cancers.”

Dr Nakamura said there was even potential to one day work with pharmaceutical partners interested in targeting IL-18 with a unique antibody or small molecule inhibitors.

He said a test for IL-18 in the bone marrow of patients would need to be performed at the point of diagnosis by taking a fluid sample from inside the bones.

The QIMR Berghofer-led research involved multiple collaborators from across the globe and within Australia.

The work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Cure Cancer Australia and Cancer Australia through the Cancer Australia Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme.

It was published in Cancer Cell today.

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute :
PO Royal Brisbane Hospital, Brisbane, QLD, 4029, Brisbane
07 3845 3752
QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
Showing 10+ recent articles for this business
9 in 10 Australians don't know when they need sun protection 19 March 2018 | Australians could be unknowingly increasing their skin cancer risk, with new data released by Cancer Council today showing that 40 percent of Australians are still confused about which weather factors cause... More information...
Scientists identify new possibility for untreatable blood cancer 16 March 2018 | Scientists have discovered a new biomarker that could help to unlock the medical mystery behind an untreatable blood cancer that affects mostly older Australians. More information...
Online risk predictor to help identify people at high risk of melanoma 12 March 2018 | Researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have developed an online test for people aged 40 and over to predict their risk of developing melanoma over the next 3.5 years. More information...
Researchers build tiny DNA nanorobots to block cancer growth 13 February 2018 | Scientists have successfully designed tiny nanorobots made of DNA and protein that can be targeted directly at tumours to stop them from growing. More information...
Regular sunscreen use could drive down melanoma incidence in Australia by a third 31 January 2018 | Regular sunscreen use by all Australians could drive down the burden of melanoma by up to 34 per cent by the year 2031, according to a study by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. More information...
Nearly 40 per cent of cancer deaths are potentially preventable 12 December 2017 | An Australian-first study has found that 38 per cent of cancer deaths in Australia each year are potentially preventable. The findings mean about 16,700 cancer deaths each year could potentially be avoided... More information...
ACRF grant to transform Queensland into global immunotherapy hub 30 November 2017 | Brisbane will continue to produce new and world-leading cancer immunotherapy treatments, thanks to a $1.75 million grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF). More information...
Scientists pinpoint genetic risk factors for asthma, hay fever and eczema 31 October 2017 | A major international study has pinpointed more than 100 genetic risk factors that explain why some people suffer from asthma, hay fever and eczema. More information...
World’s biggest genetic study of breast cancer unearths 72 new genetic markers 24 October 2017 | The world’s biggest ever genetic study of breast cancer has discovered 72 new genetic variants that put women at higher risk of the disease. More information...
Study shows men aged over 55 from Queensland are leading demographic for skin cancer 16 October 2017 | A person with skin cancer in Australia is more likely to be a man aged over 55 years who also hails from Queensland, new research shows. More information...

comments powered by Disqus

All articles submitted by third parties or written by My Sunshine Coast come under our Disclaimer / Terms of Service