Research

Local Immunotherapy

Local Immunotherapy for Sarcoma

Our Foundation has helped fund so many important research projects at the Telethon Kids Institute, working together with the Institute for decades to help improve the lives of children battling cancer. One of the exciting research projects that we are currently helping to fund is the Local Immunotherapy for Sarcoma project, headed by Associate Professor Joost Lesterhuis.

Joost is the Head of the Sarcoma Translational Research team at the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre, a team that aims to discover and develop safer and more effective treatments for sarcoma through inventive and rigorous research. One of the team’s current focuses is on developing immunotherapy approaches for childhood sarcoma that can be applied during surgery to prevent relapse.

Sarcomas are a group of cancers of the bone, muscle, or connective tissue. About 15% of cancers in children and adolescents are sarcomas, whereas it makes up only 1% of cancers in adults. “The biggest problem that has been facing sarcoma is that there hasn’t been a lot of progress in the last three decades,” said Joost. “Basically, we treat children with sarcoma the same as we did three decades ago.”

The relatively high incidence of the disease in children and the regularity of relapse makes the development of more effective treatments a high priority. “We really need to do better,” said Joost. “Because, at the moment, the primary treatment that we have available is surgery. With surgery, you really want to get rid of the tumour with a wide margin around it. Which, in some cases actually means amputations of limbs.”

Unfortunately, in many cases, some cancer cells will remain after surgery, which can then grow out in time and cause the cancer to come back. This means children must also go through harsh chemotherapy or radiotherapy before and after surgery. Even after all this, some children will still relapse.

“Once sarcoma returns, the prognosis becomes rather grim,” explained Joost. “One in three children will actually die from their sarcoma. So, we really have to do better.”

Currently, Joost and his team are developing a gel that can be left behind in the wound bed by the surgeon after sarcoma surgery. Children can then go home while the gel locally releases immunotherapy in the period that follows the surgery.

The aim is for the gel to attract and activate immune cells to mop up any remaining cancer cells, hopefully preventing the relapse of the sarcoma. The nature of the gel itself means that it safely degrades on its own.

This is such an exciting project and one that our Foundation is extremely proud to help fund. By continuing to fund this project, with the help of our generous community of supporters, we can see outcomes improve for so many children with sarcoma.

When you donate towards CCRF, you are helping to support world-class researchers like Joost and his team at the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre. This helps us get closer to seeing a future where children can live the cancer-free and side-effect-free lives that they deserve. If you would like to donate, simply head to our online donation page.

Images provided by Telethon Kids Institute

 

 

Farewell Jette Ford

The Telethon Kids Institute has farewelled research officer Jette Ford after an incredible 37-year career. Jette is one of the Institute’s most treasured employees, having a huge impact on child cancer research not only in Western Australia but around the world.

Jette’s work focused primarily on leukaemia but also other paediatric cancers, with CLCRF proudly supporting her throughout it all.

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Lightening the leukaemia load for kids with Down syndrome

Source: First published Monday 14 September 2020 by the Telethon Kids Institute

Kids born with Down syndrome are at high risk of an array of health problems – including issues with sight, hearing, heart defects, bone complications, immune disorders and learning difficulties. One of the lesser-known complications is their increased risk of childhood leukaemia.

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Did you know, CLCRF funded Western Australia’s first Cancer Tissue Bank?

During this milestone year for the Foundation, we look back at all of our successes and accomplishments over the past 40 years. Without a doubt, one of the biggest and most innovative achievements in CLCRF’s history was funding Western Australia’s first Cancer Tissue Bank.

This achievement was made possible by Professor Ursula Kees, Swiss-born scientist that was recruited from the German Cancer Research Centre in 1984 to head up the CLCRF Laboratory at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH).

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Julie Bishop appointed chair of Telethon Kids Institute

Former Foreign Affairs Minister The Hon Julie Bishop has revealed her first project post-politics. Ms Bishop will be the new chair of the Telethon Kids Institute (TKI), taking over from Mr John Langoulant AO who is stepping down in August after 14 years of voluntary service.

Mr Langoulant says he is delighted to be handing over the role to someone of Ms Bishop’s calibre. “Ms Bishop has always been a wonderful supporter of Telethon Kids as our local member and has advocated on our behalf on many issues, including helping us to secure funding for our building and for research initiatives.”

As the biggest fundraiser for TKI and with Ms Bishop having a particular interest in paediatric cancer, this is extremely exciting news for CLCRF and the future of childhood cancer research.

“We’ve got some really big plans for the future.” Says Prof Jonathan Carapetis AM, Director of Telethon Kids Institute. “In chatting to Julie, it’s clear that she is very keen to work alongside me, alongside our 700 staff, to really realise the true potential of this institute.”

Ms Bishop says she is very excited to take on this new position. “I’ve supported [TKI] over many years and this was a great opportunity for me to take on a role in what I believe to be a world-class research organisation.”

We are so thrilled to continue working alongside TKI with Ms Bishop as chair and we can’t wait to see what this means for the future of childhood cancer research.

Tweaking immunotherapy to tackle sarcoma head-on

CLCRF are proud to be working with Sock it to Sarcoma to help fund research into sarcoma at the Telethon Kids Institute.

Sarcoma is a form of cancer that occurs in the bones and soft tissues such as fat and muscle. Despite making up 15-20% of cancers in children, sarcoma is still relatively unknown and under-researched.

Our funding has allowed researchers to develop a way to tweak immunotherapy to allow for more effective treatment for the cancer.

“There is no one else in Australia really doing this therapeutic work…” Says Professor Terry Johns, head of Telethon Kids Cancer Centre.

“The current treatments are also very nasty and aggressive, and if we can improve them so children don’t have to have such horrible chemo-therapy then that would also be useful.”

The Foundation is proud to be helping fund this important research in order to improve the treatment and survival rates for children battling sarcoma.

Donations made to CLCRF will go towards funding important research into childhood cancer and can be made here.

Dr. Rishi and his team get published!

The Foundation received some excellent news earlier this year that a manuscript from Dr Rishi Kotecha and his research team at the Telethon Kids Institute has been provisionally accepted for publication in a high impact journal.

The manuscript is being published in Haematologica, a journal for the broad field of hematology that reports on novel important findings in basic, clinical and translational research.

The manuscript came about from the team’s research project funded by CLCRF to identify novel therapeutic approaches for patients with high-risk infant leukaemia. The team has screened many new drugs and the manuscript focuses on how a particular drug, called Romidepsin, has shown benefits in pre-clinical models of infant leukaemia.

Being published in a high impact journal is important for scientists as it allows the dissemination of information discovered in the laboratory to the broader public of other scientists and other clinicians.

“Without this information being shared, it won’t be translated to the clinical setting. If everyone’s aware of the information that you discover, then they can translate it to have a direct effect on the patients with cancer.” Rishi says. 

Important research projects like this would not be possible without the continued support and funding from CLCRF. “Without the support of CLCRF, our program would not exist essentially,” Rishi says. “Without the support that we get, we just wouldn’t be able to conduct the research we’re doing today.”

The Foundation would like to commend Rishi and his team for this excellent achievement. We look forward to continuing funding the research project and learning more about their developments in infant leukaemia research.

CLCRF Researchers head overseas to extend their knowledge

Two of The Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Research Foundation’s top researchers attended conferences in North America and Europe to continue their studies in both acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and the bone marrow microenvironment during leukaemogenesis.

Laurence Cheung headshot smallDr Laurence Cheung attended a very important Keystone conference ‘Keystone Symposia: Novel Aspects of Bone Biology’ in June 2018 in Salt Lake City. Attendance at this conference has reaped many dividends in terms of new collaborations and networking for the Microenvironment project as well as learning new insights regarding the bone marrow microenvironment during the development of leukaemia. Dr Cheung also presented a poster at the conference.

thumbnail_sat7030In May this year, Dr Rishi Kotecha attended the iBFM and CLLS conference in Helsinki, Finland. This conference is by invitation only and one of the specific benefits included meeting TKI’s research laboratory collaborators from the Karolinska Institutet to further develop one of the iALL projects in progress.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. ALL is characterised by an overproduction of immature white blood cells, called lymphoblasts or leukaemic blasts.

CLCRF funded both of these travel grants to the conference.

CLCRF Funds Research to Slow Down Leukaemia in Children

Dr Rishi Kotecha, one of the scientists at the Perth Children’s Hospital, is leading the way in research, funded by the Children’s Leukaemia & Cancer Research Foundation Inc. This research has unlocked a vital key to slow down the progression of leukaemia in children.

The journey for a child with cancer is not a straightforward one, and has many ups and downs. Dr Rishi Kotecha says it’s wonderful when he hears from patients many years later who are well again, graduating from university or starting families of their own.  At times his job has difficult moments such as discovering that the prognosis is not good for a young cancer patient. As a result, he is determined to discover new lifelines and better treatments that can lessen the suffering of children with leukaemia.

Working together with eight scientists, Dr Kotecha’s team of researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute, may have found a vital key that will slow down progression of leukaemia in children and has opened the door to a new way of thinking about treatment. These findings have been so significant that he and lead author, Dr Laurence Cheung, published them in the prestigious Nature journal, Leukaemia.

The researched looked at acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), which is the most common cancer among children, and a specific type called pre-B ALL.

More than a third of children with pre-B ALL have bone pain and skeletal defects at the time of diagnosis so the researchers wanted to know what was causing these symptoms.

“The bone pain at diagnosis can be quite severe,” adds Dr Kotecha, “not in all cases, but in a lot of cases there are aches, pain and fractures because their bones are brittle.”

The research team set to work by creating a highly aggressive subtype of pre-B ALL in their lab models.

They were able to identify a signal produced by the leukaemia cells which instructed cells in the micro-environment to eat away at the bone.

Desperate to find out how to stop those bone-eating cells wreaking further carnage, they tried using a commercially available drug called zoledronic acid.

The drug, which was already known to be safe for children, was a game changer.

Not only did it help reduce bone fragility, it slowed the advancement of the cancer.

Sadly, Australia was found to have one of the highest rates of leukaemia in the world. The survival rates have dramatically improved over the past 60 years but it is still one of the most common causes of cancer-related death in young people.

One of Dr Kotecha’s patients, Xander Thelan, is today the picture of health. So it is hard to believe that this 10-year-old Perth boy underwent three-and-a-half years of gruelling chemotherapy to treat leukaemia and benefited from taking part in clinical trials using a novel drug that came about from the research findings.

Xander was only five when he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Thanks to clinical trials coming from this key research, Xander finished chemotherapy last year and is now doing well.

The Telethon Kids Institute is working at a local, national and international level to try to further understand leukaemia and find and test new treatments such as this one.

“We just feel so lucky to live in Australia, in a country with such good health care and the research that they’re doing, because it is world class,” says Xander’s mother, Naomi Kerp.

“It was a wonderful feeling and it’s such a long road, three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy, that when you reach the end it’s just this beautiful feeling that it’s finally over.”

Dr Kotecha says that happy outcomes such as Xander’s continues to drive him.

The CLCRF is proud to fund international class research by scientists such as Dr Rishi Kotecha, Dr Laurence Cheung and their team that leads to better outcomes for children with cancer.

Photo taken by: Iain Gillespie

Dr Sébastien Malinge Investigates Resistant Cancer Cells

French scientist, Dr Sébastien Malinge, moved from Paris to Perth six months ago to work as an Ursula Kees Fellow. He now works in a lab funded by the Children’s Leukaemia & Cancer Research Foundation within the Telethon Kids Institute. Sébastien is enjoying his time in Perth and continues his insightful research into better therapies for children who have leukaemia. We interviewed Sébastien on 12 April at the Telethon Kids Institute to learn more about him and his research.

Sébastien’s PhD research in 2006 at the Necker Hospital in Paris was focused on discovering the genetic causes of leukaemia among children with Down’s Syndrome. Sébastien then moved to the United States to complete a post-doctoral fellowship to investigate why children with Down’s Syndrome were at higher risk of developing leukaemia than children without the condition. He moved back to Paris in 2012 to expand on what he studied.

When asked about what receiving the Ursula Kees Fellowship means to him, Sébastien says he feels privileged to receive this position.

“I met Ursula in 2016 when she invited me to present my work at the Telethon Kids Institute.

“I am very proud of having received this fellowship and continue to pursue her legacy. We work towards the same goal of finding better treatments for children with leukaemia.”

Sébastien is currently focusing on building a cohort of preclinical tools to test hypotheses with the view of testing new cancer therapies. He seeks to understand why some children relapse and the reason as to why some cancer cells are resistant to chemotherapy. He hopes that his research will give some clues to develop new therapies targeting therapy-resistant cancer cells and decrease the rate of relapse.

Sébastien believes that funding into cancer research is crucial for discovering better therapies.

“Some of these leukaemia treatments for children are successful but have high toxicity. Therefore, we need funding to find better ways to maximise the well-being of these children not only during but also after chemotherapy.”

Thank you Dr Sébastien Malinge for accepting the Ursula Kees fellowship. We are excited to have you on board and look forward to learning more about your research into finding better therapies for children with leukaemia.

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