Mater Researcher’s lymphoma studies attract funding boost

Monday 07 August 2023

More than 7,300 Australians are diagnosed with lymphoma each year, a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system from cells called lymphocytes; a type of white blood cell that usually help the body fight infection. Thanks to new funding grants, Mater Researchers continue to investigate novel treatments for lymphoma.

Dr Jay Gunawardana and Dr Joshua Tobin, members of Mater Research's Blood Cancer Group led by Professor Maher Gandhi, have recently been awarded more than $375,000 in funding to further their research into lymphoma to help outcomes for patients now and into the future.

Both doctors have received grants from Cancer Australia’s Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme (PdCCRS), with Dr Gunawardana receiving $200,000 for two years, funded by the Leukaemia Foundation and Dr Tobin receiving $100,000 for one year, funded by Cancer Australia and Can Too Foundation.

Dr Tobin also received $USD50,000 from the 2023 Conquer Cancer – AstraZeneca Young Investigator Award funded by the Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

When lymphocytes cells have uncontrolled growth, they cause lymphoma, and treatment is dependent on several factors, such as the speed of growth and whether the growth is on a B-cell or T-cell; B-cells produce antibodies used to attack invading bacteria or toxins, while T-cells destroy cells been taken over by viruses or become cancerous.

Dr Tobin’s PdCCRS funding will enable him to research the role of lipids in immune fitness and the role of B-cells and T-cells, whilst his Conquer Cancer funding will support investigations into the metabolic reprogramming both kinds of cells in follicular lymphoma.

Dr Tobin said that although many patients with follicular lymphoma are responsive to chemotherapy, the inability of the anti-tumour immune response to remove cancer cells can lead to treatment resistance.

“It remains unclear what drives this inadequate anti-tumour immune response. My study will look at how altered metabolism impairs the immune response and allows early treatment failure in follicular lymphoma,” Dr Tobin said.

“If successful this study will provide a novel therapeutic approach to improve immunotherapy efficacy in follicular lymphoma.”

Dr Gunawardana’s funding will enable him to continue his research focused on how to harness the tumour microenvironment to stratify and treat nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma (NLPHL).

“This award will enable me to investigate a rare and largely neglected type of lymphoma called ‘NLPHL’, that mainly affects men in the 30 – 50-year age group who present to their doctor with swollen glands. My idea is to see if boosting the patients’ own immunity is a way to fight their cancer,” Dr Gunawardana said.

"Currently patients with NLPHL are not treated in a standardised way. Many patients receive chemotherapy, which induces not only short-term side-effects, but also increases the risk of toxicity in the longer-term. Using state-of-the-art laboratory methods, I aim to show that novel combinations of immune-checkpoint blocking drugs are a rational strategy to treat NLPHL patients."

For more information about Mater Research’s Blood Cancer Research Group, click here.