Simple blood test could unlock cancer therapy options

A man sits next to an older woman who is receiving immunotherapy treatment
Fiona Stanley Hospital medical oncologist Clinical Professor Adnan Khattak and patient Jane Bartlett undergoing immunotherapy.
January 7, 2019

A Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) researcher on a quest to find blood markers to help predict a cancer patient’s likelihood of responding to new immunotherapy treatments has been awarded a Raine Medical Research Foundation Clinician Research Fellowship.

FSH medical oncologist Clinical Professor Adnan Khattak is one of five researchers awarded the Department of Health funded fellowships that will enable him to pursue research.

Drugs that stimulate the immune system can significantly improve a patient’s survival outcome but these medications are expensive, don’t work for all patients and can cause debilitating side effects such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain and skin rashes.

Professor Khattak said currently there was no way of telling which patients would benefit from the drugs which can cost up to $10,000 per dose.

“I hope to overcome this by identifying predictive markers and using these to develop a simple blood test,” Professor Khattak said.

“Blood tests are minimally invasive so can be performed regularly to monitor the cancer as it evolves and to identify the mechanisms of drug resistance.

“The study will compare how certain markers in the blood differ between patients who respond well to the immunotherapy drugs and those who don’t.”

The markers of most interest to Professor Khattak are tumour cells that circulate in the blood of cancer patients and genetic defects that can be detected as certain protein expressions.

“Having a reliable means of predicting which patients would benefit from immunotherapies will not only spare many from undergoing treatments that would not help them and could even be harmful, but would also provide significant savings to the health system.”

FSH infectious diseases consultant, Dr Edward Raby is also a recipient a fellowship and will be undertaking a study to determine whether the anti-inflammatory drug, celecoxib, speeds up recovery and improves the scar quality after a burn injury.

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