Posted 1 July 2024

Funding boost for multiple myeloma research

Funding boost for multiple myeloma research

A four-year grant of $2.9M, announced in June from the Medical Research Future Fund’s Genomics Health Futures Grant will support a multi-centre and multidisciplinary team led by SVI’s Associate Professor Elaine Sanij to identify and validate blood biomarkers to provide early detection of multiple myeloma and to monitor disease progression and response to treatment. 

Sadly, 1,100 Australians lose their life to multiple myeloma each year, and this is projected to rise to 3,037 in 2035 due to increasing and ageing population. Accurate blood biomarkers have the potential to enable personalised treatments, advanced disease monitoring and improve survival. 

The Minister for Health, the Hon Mark Butler MP said: “This research is world-leading and these projects have the potential to be game changers that will lead to advances in diagnosis, treatment and outcomes for Australians and around the world. 

“I want to thank the ongoing work of our top scientists, whose research in this field will make a real difference to people’s lives.” 

What is multiple myeloma and how is it treated?

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that is caused by an abnormal build-up of white blood cells, also known as plasma cells, in the bone marrow. Despite advances in multiple myeloma treatments, there is no cure for this disease and treatment options are focussed on slowing its progression and inducing remission.  

The problem arises when multiple myeloma develops resistance to the drugs used in treatment and inevitably relapse. With each relapse, the effectiveness of treatment diminishes.  

“We have assembled an outstanding multidisciplinary team to tackle these issues,” shares Elaine.

What is Elaine’s project trying to achieve?

The team will identify new blood-based biomarkers for early detection of multiple myeloma and monitor its response to contemporary therapies. They will also co-design resources to educate patients on biomarker testing information, to assist in making informed shared decisions.

“Our proposed research involves profiling the genome, epigenome and transcriptome of blood and bone marrow samples of multiple myeloma patients and the use of pre-clinical models to identify molecular signatures of response to therapy.”  

“The development of blood-based biomarkers has the potential to enhance screening to detect disease relapse and enable targeted intervention.” 

Informed by patients and advocates, the combined impact of this project will enable Elaine and her collaborators to develop advanced disease monitoring approaches, devise strategies for treatment and improve survival outcomes for patients with multiple myeloma.  

The findings aim to minimise unnecessary diagnostic workups and significantly reduce the cost on the health care system. 

Project collaborators include: Prof Hang Quach (St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne) (pictured), Prof Zoe McQuilten (Monash University), Dr Stephen Wong, Dr Anna Trigos, Prof Paul Neeson, Prof Ricky Johnstone, Dr Amit Khot, Prof Simon Harrison, Ms Hayley Beer, A/Prof Piers Blombery (the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre), A/Prof Ashley Ng WEHI, Dr Davis McCarthy and Prof Natalie Sims (SVI) and Consumer Advisers Mr George Kiossoglou and Mr Geoff Nyssen 

Associate Professor Elaine would also like to thank The Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group, Australasian Myeloma Research Consortium, the Barrie Dalgleish Centre for Myeloma and Related Blood Cancers, the Wilson Centre for Blood Cancer Genomics, the Myeloma and Related Diseases Registry and Myeloma Australia for their support.  

About biomarkers 

A biomarker can be a protein, gene or biological molecule that can be detected in the blood or other body fluids to indicate the presence of diseases like cancer. Some cancers have biomarkers that are made by the cancer itself (called tumour-associated markers or tumour markers), while other biomarkers are made by your own immune system in response to the presence of cancer. 

About the genome, epigenome and transcriptome 

Genomics studies the genome (all a person’s DNA) as a whole. Transcriptomics analyses how that DNA is expressed as proteins and other molecules. Epigenomics investigates how the genome is modified such that the DNA sequence does not change, but a person’s observable traits do.