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QIMR Berghofer scientist awarded Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research

QIMR Berghofer clinician-scientist Dr Siok Tey has been awarded the prestigious Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research for her work to improve cancer outcomes and make bone marrow transplantation safer.

The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia each year awards two $55,000 Metcalf Prizes to researchers who have shown leadership and excellence in stem cell research.

Dr Tey leads QIMR Berghofer’s Translational Cancer Immunotherapy Laboratory and also works as a bone marrow transplant physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

At QIMR Berghofer, she uses her expertise in immunology, cell therapy and clinical medicine to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of cancer and immune complications arising from bone marrow transplantation.

She said the prize money would support further research to better understand how bone marrow transplantation – also known as stem cell transplantation – can be fine-tuned to increase a patient’s immunity against leukaemia cells without harming healthy tissues.

“Stem cell transplantation generates a very potent immune effect that can cure blood cancer and save lives, but up to 30 per cent of patients will still relapse,” Dr Tey said.

“Patients can also suffer serious side effects, including graft-versus-host disease, where the donor immune response targets the patient’s healthy tissues. Graft-versus-host disease can be life-threatening and has led to long-term complications for a number of my patients.

“At QIMR Berghofer we’re working to better understand which cells in the mixed bag of transplanted cells help destroy blood cancer and which cells cause harm. We then use this knowledge to develop ways to select only the beneficial cells or even create them afresh using state-of-the-art cell and gene technology.”

Around 700 Australians receive a bone marrow transplant from healthy donors each year to treat blood cancers such as leukaemia. The transplant rebuilds their blood and immune systems to ensure the cancer remains in remission.

Dr Tey is the third researcher from QIMR Berghofer to receive the Metcalf Prize in recent years, with Associate Professor Steven Lane and Associate Professor James Hudson being honoured in early 2021 and 2019.

“It’s staggering that Siok is the third consecutive Metcalf Prize winner from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, following Steven Lane’s and James Hudson’s success,” said Graeme Meheghan, General Manager of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

“But they’ve all won on the strength of their work in different fields of research.”

QIMR Berghofer Director and CEO, Professor Fabienne Mackay, congratulated Dr Tey on the prize.

“We’re incredibly proud of Dr Tey’s work to develop better cancer treatments and make stem cell transplants safer for the hundreds of Australians who need them every year,” Professor Mackay said.

“As a practising bone marrow transplant physician, she is all too aware of the need to find better ways to treat aggressive and potentially fatal blood cancers.”

The Metcalf Prize is named in honour of the late Professor Don Metcalf AC, who helped transform cancer treatment and revolutionise bone marrow transplantation.