A Queensland research breakthrough could relieve the suffering of millions of chemotherapy patients around the world.
Science and Innovation Minister Ian Walker said Associate Professor Ingrid Winkler from Mater Research had discovered how to flick a biological switch that allowed the immune system to be better protected during the onslaught of chemo.
“Every year about 25,000 Queenslanders are diagnosed with cancer and many will undergo chemotherapy,” Mr Walker said.
“Chemo attacks healthy cells as well as cancerous ones and many people require hospitalisation due to side-effects.
“Dr Winkler has found a way to put key immune system cells to sleep during chemo and then wake them up when they are needed.
“This has the potential to dramatically improve patients’ recovery.”
Mr Walker said this discovery was an important example of how the Queensland Government was delivering on its election promise to revitalise frontline services.
“We are helping to turn great ideas into life-saving opportunities with $240,000 in funding so far, and an additional $120,000 over the next year,” he said. “The Government’s focus on innovation and science is what transforms opportunities into results for all Queenslanders.”
Dr Winkler said complications from chemotherapy arise due to collateral damage to normal stem cells in bone marrow.
“These cells – called Haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) – are important in regenerating immune systems,” Dr Winkler said.
“Usually when chemo is finished, a patient has nothing left to fight infection. This is because with the immune system temporarily down, patients become susceptible to bacterial infections.”
Dr Winkler said her research at the Translational Research Institute had discovered how to put HSCs to sleep and wake them up again when needed. Her studies have shown this can make a chemotherapy patient’s recovery dramatically faster.
“Sleeping HSCs don’t get damaged by chemo,” she said.
The next step is to undergo human trails and Dr Winkler is now in discussions with a US biotechnology company to continue the research.