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18 February 2014

Stephen Rodda (UniSA), Warwick Anderson (NHMRC), Prof Angel Lopez (CCB), Minister Peter Dutton and Prof Robert Vink (UniSA).The Centre for Cancer Biology – an alliance between the University of South Australia and SA Pathology – has secured a $6.67 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to lead vital new research into leukaemia.

Led by Professor Angel Lopez, the research is designed to track down the mechanisms that control blood cell formation and how cell abnormalities play a part in the progression of the disease, and its return post remission.

Securing the prestigious NHMRC Program grant for the next five years – one of only 11 awarded nationally – Prof Lopez and a team of scientists will work not only on finding how blood cell abnormalities influence the progress of leukaemia, but also on the development and application of new life-saving therapies.

Prof Lopez says the size and duration of the grant makes a big difference to what scientists can achieve.

“To have support for this research collaboration for the next five years is really vital because it provides stability that allows us to take risks and think outside the square, while giving us time to translate our fundamental research right through to better clinical practices,” Prof Lopez says.

“This research is part of the vanguard work in cancer treatment which seeks to identify how to better target the cancer to prevent disease progression – so we work to understand what is particularly going wrong in the cancer cells.

“Our research team includes experts in cell signalling, the wiring inside the cell; structural biology and drug design that gives us a 3D picture of the machine that malfunctions in leukaemia; and specialists in diagnostics and therapy that put into practice our discoveries. So we have a team looking at this problem from end to end.”

Prof Lopez says the research strategy for the program includes three themes tackling different aspects of the problem and involving different research groups which are well integrated to maximise progress.

leukaemic cellsThe project team includes leaders Prof Lopez and Prof Timothy Hughes from the CCB and Prof Michael Parker from St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne and about 16 associate investigators.

“The targeted goal of this research is to better understand and treat leukaemia but we know the work we do in this specific space will have outcomes and learnings that apply to other forms of cancer,” Prof Lopez says.

“We anticipate that breakthroughs in treating and understanding leukaemia will give us a broader understanding of the causes of cancer progression and relapse in patients and lead to real advances in treatment. In effect, this work will help us bring personalised treatments closer to cancer patients.”

UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says he is delighted with news of the $6 million-plus grant for the CCB. He says the CCB has grown to become a flagship research centre that is highly regarded internationally.

“This grant will further expand the CCB’s world-class research into blood and other cancers,” Prof Lloyd says.

“The major challenges today are controlling progression of the disease and preventing relapse.

“Research breakthroughs in these leukaemias will provide broader understanding of the causes of cancer progression and relapse and lead to significant advances in cancer treatment.”

Contact for interview: Prof Angel Lopez office (08) 8222 3474

Media contact: Kelly Stone office 8302 0963 mobile 0417 861 832 email Kelly.stone@unisa.edu.au

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