A team from Monash University is celebrating the discovery of a gene found in many patients with leukemia. The researchers hope their work will help develop better treatment options for patients and in some cases, spare sufferers from therapies that have no prospect of working.
Sewa Rijal, a PhD student from Nepal studying PhD in Australia said, “this protein was supposed to be a tumor suppressor in breast cancer, and when we started this project, we thought it would be a tumor suppressor in leukemia. But what we've found was completely different. Sewa Rijal is a daughter of Rajendra Rijal and Prava Rijal. According to Australian Broadcasting Corporation, with her supervisor, Andrew Wei, from the Alfred Hospital, the two researchers found that when the protein INPP4B was found in patients with leukemia, it was unequivocally bad news.
“When this protein was present, these patients did not respond to chemotherapy. So this protein can be used as another biomarker of the disease,” said Rijal to Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Currently, we're focusing on how it acts in leukemic cells to cause chemo resistance. So if we can find out how it works, then we can target the protein and the pathway to then treat acute myeloid leukemia more effectively. Sewa Rijal says she hopes her discovery will match patients carrying the gene with either new treatments or other options such as transplants.
In Australia, about 1,000 people battle acute myeloid leukemia every year, and only about a quarter survive five years after diagnosis.
“Once the patient is into the clinic, usually they're recommended for chemotherapy. But if we know that this patient expresses this protein, then we can avoid unnecessary toxicity that is associated with chemotherapy. And we can then take alternative therapy for this patient that may be more suitable,” said Rijal. “I think it's just destiny that what's meant to be is meant to be, and even in Australia at times, we are just 24 hours ahead, and maybe yeah, you could be right and the time difference helped - it's all luck and destiny.”
“May be 20 years later after I have enough experience, I want to go back to Nepal and build medical research there because we don't have any medical research institutes in Nepal, and biomedical science research is not that active in Nepal. So maybe start something there and help people in Nepal - yeah, that's always been my plan,” said Sewa Rijal, Monash University PhD Student to ABC’s Simon Santow.