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Queensland leading the world in chemotherapy research

6 May 2014, by Informa Insights

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Queensland has boosted its already strong reputation as a global healthcare leader after some of the state’s top researchers made ground-breaking developments in chemotherapy treatment.

Princess Alexandra Hospital recently supported a vital piece of research, led by Associate Professor Ingrid Winkler from Mater Research, which focused on making chemotherapy treatments safer for all cancer patients. According to Science and Innovation Minister Ian Walker, Professor Winkler has unveiled a technique to activate a “biological switch” that can boost the immune system when receiving chemotherapy.

Mr Walker explained that this was an important development given that many patients suffer side effects from the treatment.

“Chemo attacks healthy cells as well as cancerous ones and many people require hospitalisation due to side-effects,” he said.

“Dr Winkler has found a way to put key immune system cells to sleep during chemo and then wake them up when they are needed. This has the potential to dramatically improve patients’ recovery.”

Professor Winkler added that there are many complications that can arise from chemotherapy. For example, damage to the vital haematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow – which regenerate immune systems – can temporarily disable the immune system and lead to bacterial infections.

However, an intravenous drug that is given to the patient during treatment can activate the ‘switch’ and help protect against infection.

“This is the first scientific application in decades that would significantly reduce the risk of infection in cancer patients,” said Professor Andrew Perkins, who had been working with Professor Winkler in her research.

“The availability of this drug will depend on clinical trials which will start sometime next year.”

Such developments are likely to revolutionise how chemotherapy sessions are delivered in Australia and around the world. Mr Walker added that in Queensland alone, around 25,000 patients are diagnosed with cancer every year and will have to undergo the treatment.

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