Brisbane Based Breakthrough in Cancer Research

25/Nov/2019     Research

Collaboration between Brisbane based clinical research institutes the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD), Mater Research and Translational Research Institute (TRI) has led to a significant breakthrough in cancer research with the findings published in international medical journal Blood.

The multi-disciplinary team, led by GRIDD's Dr Alexandre Cristino and Mater Research’s Professor Maher Gandhi in collaboration with researchers from the Translational Research Institute, discovered a new mechanism in which the Epstein-Barr virus - which can cause lymphoma and blood cancers - escapes the immune system.

Dr Cristino explains the findings show how viral small ribonucleic acid (RNA) regulates the expression of immune-checkpoints, which are proteins that can stop the immune system attacking cancer cells. 

“One of the most promising forms of immunotherapy at the moment is inhibiting checkpoint proteins, enabling immune cells to recognise and destroy cancer cells,” Dr Cristino said.

“We’re hoping our findings can lead to treatments for lymphomas and blood cancers which are not responding to conventional first-line immuno-therapies.”

Chief Executive Officer and Director of Clinical Research at Mater Research Professor Maher Gandhi said this finding was proof of what can be achieved when organisations work together. 

“This work not only represents an important breakthrough in our understanding of lymphoma, but it also shows what can be achieved by like-minded teams partnering and collaborating across research institutes," Professor Gandhi said. 

After an extensive research process the team discovered a novel mechanism by which a viral small RNA (miR-BHRF1-2 encoded in the Epstein-Barr virus or EBV genome) regulates the expression of immune-checkpoints ligand PD-L1 and PD-L2 in EBV-positive diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). 

The discovery may enable potential novel RNA-based treatment therapies to emerge in the future that will work to switch off checkpoint proteins to enhance the body’s natural anti-tumour immunity.

“This discovery continues the work being done across the world on immune boosting treatments to fight cancers,” Dr Cristino said.  

The research has been published in Blood, a highly esteemed scientific journal that is the most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field of haematology. 


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