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QIMR Berghofer scientist awarded Metcalf Prize for stem cell research

QIMR Berghofer researcher, Associate Professor Steven Lane, has been awarded the Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research for his work into how genetic changes in leukaemia stem cells cause the disease to spread.

The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia awards the annual Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research to scientists who have shown leadership in the study of these vital cells that give rise to all mature cells in the body.

Associate Professor Lane heads QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Cancer Program and the Gordon & Jessie Gilmour Leukaemia Research Laboratory. The lab is focussed on understanding how leukaemia stem cells in patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are able to regenerate leukaemia, even after cytotoxic chemotherapy.

Associate Professor Lane said his group would use the $55,000 prize to examine how leukaemia stem cells become resistant to treatment through changes to their genetic makeup.

“We’re honoured to receive the Metcalf Prize and grateful that it will help us progress our research so we can hopefully lift survival rates for these very aggressive and rapidly fatal blood cancers,” Associate Professor Lane said.

“We think the key could lie in the genetic fingerprints of the blood cancer stem cells that proliferate the disease.

“When stem cells change they adopt new characteristics that make them cancerous, but also might predispose them to certain types of treatment.

“Understanding the genetic fingerprints of these blood cancer stem cells will hopefully allow us to develop more effective and tailored therapies to both prevent and treat patients who experience potentially fatal relapses of the disease.”

QIMR Berghofer Director and CEO, Professor Fabienne Mackay, has congratulated Associate Professor Lane on the prize.

“Steven and his team’s research provides valuable insight into myeloid blood cancers, which are among the most common types of cancer affecting Australians and some of the most difficult to treat,” Professor Mackay said.

“The group’s translational research offers hope for many patients living with these blood cancers that new treatments and drug pathways could be found to target resistant leukaemia.”

The National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s Chairman, Dr Graeme Blackman AO, said Associate Professor Lane and the other Metcalf prize recipient, Dr Melanie Eckersley-Maslin from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, were recognised for their early-career leadership in stem cell research.

“Steven Lane and Melanie Eckersley-Maslin are taking two very different stem cell research approaches to understand, prevent and treat different types of cancer,” said Dr Blackman.

“We are pleased to help support their research projects because we want to ensure they have the funds they need to thrive. Over the next few decades, as we learn more about stem cells, we are hopeful that we will see them become part of many modern medical treatments, giving hope to many facing currently untreatable and sometimes life-threatening illnesses.” 

The awards are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf AC who, over a 50-year career, helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, paving the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.