12 April 2017

Researcher in cell bid to stem blood disorder

A Royal Perth Hospital researcher investigating the potential of using adult stem cells to treat one of the most common blood disorders in the elderly is among seven researchers awarded fellowships in the inaugural round of Registrar Research Fellowships.

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a disorder of the bone marrow that can progress to leukaemia in up to a quarter of cases.  

Dr Melita Cirillo says research has shown MDS patients can benefit from various immune therapies but none has been used routinely due to side effects including increased risk of infection.

“We’re investigating whether Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs) – adult stem cells that, while not an immune therapy as such, have been found to modulate the immune system – might be a safer alternative,” Dr Cirillo said.

She described MSCs as versatile cells with special properties including being universal donor cells (meaning they can be taken from anyone and given to anyone else without the need for tissue matching) that homed to sites of inflammation.

MSCs being infused into participants in Dr Cirillo’s project are obtained from the bone marrow of healthy donors and culture-expanded in RPH's cell and tissue therapies manufacturing unit, Cell and Tissue Therapies WA.

Dr Cirillo said this preliminary “phase one” study was recruiting patients who had been identified as being in the early stages of MDS.

If the analysis of this initial phase shows positive results, then a larger phase two study will be undertaken.

While MDS is not curable for most patients, blood transfusions and treatment for infection are the most common of the currently available therapies for patients with early MDS.

Dr Cirillo said the ultimate goal of the research team was to save lives by finding a simple and effective treatment that could slow the progression of MDS and improve patients’ quality of life by limiting hospital visits and transfusions. 

WA’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Gary Geelhoed said Dr Cirillo’s work highlighted the important research taking place in WA’s public health system.

“MDS can lead to the far more serious condition of leukaemia so any treatment that can halt its progression will have an important impact on those patients and the health system,” he said.

The Department of Health-funded Registrar Research Fellowships program has been designed to enhance the research capability of the WA Health Registrar workforce by enabling these doctors-in-training to pursue research alongside their clinical duties while under the supervision of senior clinician researchers.

The full list of recipients is:

Dr Melita Cirillo, Haematology, Royal Perth Hospital

This Fellowship enables Dr Cirillo to continue working on a clinical trial for patients with Myelodysplastic syndrome – a “pre-leukaemic” disorder of bone marrow failure which leads to reduced survival and frequent hospitalisation.

Dr Ayla Ishak, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Princess Margaret Hospital

This Fellowship will allow Dr Ishak to be involved in a new project titled "Development of exhaled breath condensate for bronchiectasis", a collaboration between CAHS, Telethon Kids Institute and Murdoch University Metabolomics Laboratory.

Dr Courtney Majda, Rehabilitation, Princess Margaret Hospital

This Fellowship will present the opportunity for Dr Majda to embark on a research career working within the Department of Paediatric Rehabilitation, who are an investigative site with the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence: The Australasian CP Clinical Trials Network.

Dr Shanela Sooben, Gastroenterology, Fiona Stanley Hospital

This Fellowship provides Dr Sooben with the opportunity to be involved in developing and analysing a biologics register and a ‘virtual biologics’ clinic as well as being involved in a large scale inflammatory bowel disease study.

Dr Graham Weaire-Buchanan, Microbiology, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital

This Fellowship supports Dr Weaire-Buchanan’s work on the antimicrobial resistance project “Validation and impact assessment of a Flow-assistance Antibiotic Susceptibility Test (FAST) for clinical laboratory use”.

Dr Cara Winnall, Cardiology, Royal Perth Hospital

This Fellowship will provide opportunities for Dr Winnall to be involved in research projects in the Department of Cardiology at Royal Perth Hospital, including the RoyAl Perth evIDencebased accelerated chest pain pathway (RAPID) study.

Dr Lokesh Yagnik, Respiratory, Fiona Stanley Hospital

The Fellowship enables Dr Yagnik to be involved in the research project “Endobronchial ultrasound elastography in the assessment of mediastinal lymph nodes”. This is a multicentre, prospective non-interventional cohort study.


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