Mater researcher investigates a new therapeutic approach for follicular lymphoma

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Mater Research CEO Professor Maher Gandhi has secured additional funding from the Leukaemia Foundation to investigate a new therapeutic approach for follicular lymphoma (FL).

The additional $200 000 funding as part of the Leukaemia Foundation’s National Research Program will enable Professor Gandhi to focus on the properties of immune cells.

“We need a new way of looking at things,” said Professor Gandhi.

“There are particular features of this lymphoma, from a scientific point of view, that have always intrigued me and I’ve always believed FL was a cancer influenced by the immune system.”

Follicular lymphoma is the second most commonly diagnosed form of lymphoma, which occurs mostly in older patients, and presents in two different forms.  In 15-20 per cent of cases, the FL is very isolated in a small group of lymph nodes. For the other 80-85 per cent of cases, it is more advanced. 

“We can cure FL in a small subset, and to try and extend that to a bigger subset is something I feel very motivated by,” Prof Gandhi said.

“What’s interesting is that in the small group, it seems FL is curable in a proportion of patients, but in the other patients, it’s incurable – it can be treated and controlled but it comes back, and it never goes away,” said Prof. Gandhi.

“What we want to do is look at that small group and find out what the molecular features are that actually means that it can go away. Our data so far suggests it’s due not so much to the biology of a lymphoma cell, but the surrounding immune cells.

“In some cases, those immune cells are very common, and these patients do much better. In other cases, the immune cells are hardly there at all, and they do much worse.

“If we can confirm this, it’s quite important, because it might suggest that the best way to treat FL is to profile the tumour at diagnosis and in cases where very few immune cells have infiltrated the lymphoma, we could possibly design new therapies that actually cause the immune cells to infiltrate the lymphoma and fight it.”

Through funding from the NHMRC, Prof Gandhi’s research is already well underway, but the additional funding from the Leukaemia Foundation will be used to appoint a post-doctoral researcher to work on the project for two years, starting in July.

“I expect we’ll get our big breakthrough this year,” said Prof. Gandhi.

“Our work is very advanced. Our results are very interesting indeed and we are quite excited by the findings.

“We’re hoping to show that we can identify people who are more likely to not respond well to treatment and that it is related to their immune system and from here we can then form the basis of a clinical trial in which we could test this.”

*This funding is part of the Leukaemia Foundation’s Strategic Ecosystem Research Partnerships (SERP) and was made possible thanks to generous individual supporters and the estates of Beverly Simersall and Dorothy Ruth Forest.