When Bruce Glover was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, he soon realized that life would never be the same.
- Myelofibrosis affects one in 100,000 people in Australia
- A new antibody is being prepared for early phase clinical trials in South Africa this year
- Current treatment for myelofibrosis only controls symptoms
“My doctor put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I’m your friend for life,’ and I realized at this point it wasn’t going to be cured,” he said.
The 69-year-old runs his own business on the Gold Coast but has found it harder to stay on top of his game since being diagnosed with myelofibrosis in 2018.
“Before, I was like the Energizer Battery – I could outrun anyone in business, at work, etc.,” he said.
“I can’t do the things I used to do anymore, which is getting extremely frustrating.”
But a recent stroke of luck for a team of Adelaide researchers could lead to the first possible effective treatment for the rare and debilitating blood cancer.
Myelofibrosis, a type of bone marrow cancer, affects around one in 100,000 people in Australia and can often lead to complete bone marrow failure or even acute leukaemia.
Daniel Thomas, head of the Myeloid Metabolism Laboratory at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), has been researching better therapies for primary myelofibrosis for three years.
“It progresses over a period of three to five years, leading to severe fibrosis of the marrow, and it can sometimes turn into acute leukemia where patients get sick extremely quickly,” he said.
Dr Thomas and his team of Adelaide researchers were trying to create a tool to help understand the impact of disease on the human body, but what they ended up discovering was far more extraordinary.
“While we were making an antibody to try to understand how the protein calreticulin worked inside stem cells…we were completely shocked to find that it actually stopped their (cancer cell) growth,” he said. he declares.
Dr. Thomas initially assumed the results were in error.
“I said, ‘We have to repeat this. It’s too good to be true,'” he said.
But after multiple tests, he was convinced they had found a cure for what is often considered an “incurable mutation”.
“And low and behold, the antibody actually stopped these [cancer cells] growth but did not prevent the growth of a single normal healthy stem cell,” Dr. Thomas said.
The new antibody is currently being prepared for early phase clinical trials which are expected to take place in South Australia later this year.
Modern medicine is wreaking havoc
Myelofibrosis has been commonly treated since 2014 with a drug called ruxolitinib, which works by preventing cancer cells from multiplying.
However, the drug is only able to control symptoms and does not kill cancer cells.
Ruxolitinib helped stabilize Mr Glover’s blood cell count, but the side effects took their toll.
“I have teeth that are falling out,” Mr Glover said.
“I have night sweats… you get out of bed and you have to take off your T-shirt. It’s totally wet.
“I could do that two, three times a night.”
Mr Glover said a new treatment would be “fantastic”.
“Even at my age, I still believe there’s so much more I can add value and give back to the community,” he said.
Changing the future of cancer treatment
Researchers hope this unexpected finding may lead to treatments for more than just myelofibrosis.
Peptide fragments similar to the one used to generate the new antibody can also be found in other types of cancers.
Dr. Thomas’ team found that certain mutations cause cancer to grow, and that these too could be targeted and killed without causing side effects, potentially opening the door to new breakthroughs in cancer. cancer treatment.
“This gives us a very real opportunity to eliminate…over time, every mutant cell, because they all have the same calreticulin-conducting mutation (CALR),” he said.
Dr. Thomas began work on building a computational algorithm to detect these fragments to help pathology companies and physicians link to their clinical trials.