Ground-breaking research could help cancer patients

Westmead Hospital’s Professor Jacob George and Professor David Gottlieb.

Two leading Westmead Hospital professors are among nine doctors who have been awarded a share of $4.6 million dollars from Cancer Council NSW for potentially life-saving research.

Professor David Gottlieb will conduct the first human trial of a new immunotherapy treatment for fungal infections that occur after a bone marrow transplant.

Bone marrow, or blood stem cell transplants, may be used to treat leukaemia and lymphoma, however fungus infections occur in 10 percent of these patients.

Mortality rates, even with treatment, are very high given the body’s immune system is weak for up to 12 months after the transplant.

Professor Gottlieb’s team has developed a method of generating immune cells that fight fungus and will now test whether giving these, along with standard treatments, will reduce infection-related death.

“The grant from the Cancer Council will allow us to do a trial that has never been done anywhere in the world to treat patients with serious fungal infections,” Professor Gottlieb said.

“This will cement the place of Westmead Hospital as the leading centre for cell therapy in Australia.”

It will be the first trial of this type ever performed in humans.

Professor Jacob George will investigate resistance to chemotherapy in patients with advanced liver cancer.

The only available therapy is called Sorafenib and it extends survival by only 12 weeks on average, due to the emergence of drug resistance.

Professor George hopes to target cancer stem cells using a chemical antibody to reduce drug resistance.

If this approach is successful, the study will have immediate implications for improving the outcomes for patients with liver cancer.

“We should hopefully get longer relapse-free survival and ideally aim for a cure,” Professor George said.

“Finding new treatments is an urgent and unmet clinical need and will, if successful, transform the lives of patients with liver cancer.”