HMRI searcher newsletter Autumn 2014

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Information about HMRI searcher newsletter Autumn 2014
Health & Medicine

Published on March 6, 2014

Author: HMRIAustralia



HMRI Searcher Newsletter Autumn 2014.

The latest health and medical research news from the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI).

Featured research includes ovarian cancer, stroke, organ failure, smoking cessation, melanoma, leukaemia and breast cancer, as well as the latest fundraising and event updates.

searcher autumn 2014 Goal to improve ovarian therapy A personal and poignant sporting connection has inspired a unique study aimed at developing a chemotherapy response and resistance test for ovarian cancer sufferers. HMRI cancer geneticist and avid hockey player Nikola Bowden joined the Oxford Hockey Club some years ago for the fun, fitness and camaraderie. But when her teammate Judy Raymond was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, lives were changed immeasurably. “Mum fought very hard for a very long time and my dad, Kevin, was by her side throughout the entire experience,” daughter Kristy Raymond reflects. “Mum’s dream was to raise awareness about ovarian cancer, to get the message out there about the symptoms and that one day there would be an early detection test for ovarian cancer. “She wanted to do something, and her friends from the Oxford Hockey Club also wanted to help. Among them was Nikola.” The hockey team held their first Oxford Ladies Lunch in 2012 at Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club, raising around $12,000 to allow Dr Bowden to investigate the role a particular protein plays in identifying chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer. TEAM EFFORT: Dr Nikola Bowden in her HMRI laboratory and, below, with the late Judy Raymond (centre) flanked by Kristy and Michelle Raymond. “Currently we have no diagnostic test to say which patients will respond to chemotherapy and which patients won’t,” Dr Bowden says. “Our goal is to identify which patients will respond to chemotherapy much earlier, while our long-term aim is to design a test to predict when a patient is becoming resistant. “By picking it up early, patients can then be treated using a different and perhaps more effective method.” The research has far-reaching possibilities for other cancers. “There is the potential that any cancers that receive this form of ... contents P2: P2: P3: P3: P4: P4: P5: P6: Director’s message Stroke clot-buster ‘Trojan horse’ DNA Smoking ban Hot off the press Community Make a difference Events news chemotherapy will also be able to use the protein test to identify resistance,” Dr Bowden adds. “It is likely that this may also work for lung cancer as well as testicular cancer.” Kristy remains determined to continue supporting the cause, with the third annual Oxford Ladies Lunch planned for March 15 at the Newcastle yacht club. “I think Nikola’s research is just vital in trying to prolong and improve the lives of women with ovarian cancer, and that’s what my mum would have wanted,” Kristy says.

director’s message Headline goes here The seed to succeed The road to developing and delivering lifechanging therapies can be a long one, fraught with blind alleys and funding potholes. When a researcher remains focused on the destination, though, anything is possible. Recently, a biotech company known as Viralytics Limited, which has formative links to the earliest days of HMRI, announced a successful capital raising venture of $27.1 million to fund the completion of clinical trials for a targeted anti-cancer therapy known as CAVATAK™. A Phase II trial is already underway overseas with late-stage melanoma patients while a separate trial is assessing the multiple intravenous dosing of CAVATAK™ in patients with tumours including prostate, lung or metastatic bladder cancers. The survival rates, so far, are looking very promising for the trial participants. Associate Professor Darren Shafren, the inaugural recipient of the HMRI Award for Early Career Research, has demonstrated the effectiveness of a common cold virus (Coxsackievirus A21) as a potential treatment to kill cancer cells. It is a wonderful example of how an original idea, conceived in the Hunter, can develop into something of global magnitude with seed funding from our supporters, in this case The Greater Building Society. Darren and his team have been remarkably astute from both a scientific and commercial perspective in progressing the therapy along the translational pathway. Projects of this kind are what the Hunter has the potential to deliver and the perfect outcome of our mission around translational medicine. More importantly it is exciting that this Hunter idea has the potential to help so many cancer sufferers locally and world-wide. Professor Michael Nilsson HMRI Director Stroke clot-buster trial goes global A HMRI stroke drug trial that yielded rapid treatment outcomes for patients is being expanded nationally and internationally with support from the National Heart Foundation of Australia and The Greater Charitable Foundation. Led by neurologist Professor Mark Parsons, researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health are establishing a network of 20 acute stroke centres around Australia and 50 world-wide. They are investigating the effectiveness of the clot-busting drug Tenecteplase over the standard treatment Alteplase in a broader group of stroke victims. The therapy must be administered within four hours post-stroke. Results from the Phase II trial in 2008-2011 found two-thirds of patients treated with Tenecteplase showed major neurological improvement within a day, compared with 36 per cent for those administered Alteplase. “Using Tenecteplase we’ve seen patients severely affected by stroke returning to normal function within two or three days,” Professor Parsons said. “We now need this larger study to see if this drug benefits stroke patients in the wider community. Professor Parsons hopes to enrol 1,000 patients, averaging five patients per site per year. Funding from The Greater Charitable Foundation will allow Dr Andrew Bivard to return to the Hunter as an imaging specialist for the project. Stroke survivor Sylvia Ryan from Pokolbin was administered Tenecteplase in 2011 after arriving at John Hunter Hospital partially paralysed and unable to speak. Her husband Phillip approved her participation in the trial. “In my own mind I thought Sylvia would be under some loss of function for the rest of her life. That’s how she left the house,” Phillip recalls. “When we went home that night Sylvia had some movement in her leg, but next morning when we arrived she was speaking and seemed as bright as a button. It was an absolute miracle.” Sylvia left hospital days later, walking and talking as normal. “I doubt I’d be here today without Tenecteplase. I can’t say enough for it – life’s good.” Have a question about a health issue or HMRI research study? Please email

‘Trojan horse’ link to organ failure The quest to save accident victims in Intensive Care often extends beyond treating the original injury, with multiple organ failure (MOF) presenting a constant threat. While the precise cause of the body’s sequential ‘shut down’ is unknown, results from a recent HMRI study may help to solve the puzzle. “Our key research area is looking at the body’s inflammatory response to injury – what is the molecular connection between tissue damage and organ failure,” Professor Zsolt Balogh, Director of Trauma Surgery at John Hunter Hospital and head of the University of Newcastle’s Traumatology Research Group, says. “We have found four independent predictors of Multiple Organ Failure. One is the severity of injury, the second is the severity of blood loss, third is the patient’s genetics, and fourth is the socalled second hit.” The term ‘second hit’ refers to the management of a patient’s injuries and condition after arriving at hospital, particularly how surgical operations can trigger their immunological response. “Patients are stirred up by the trauma and we hit them again with surgery and interventions,” Professor Balogh adds. “We can’t do anything about how severely they’re injured or their blood loss, we can’t change how genetically prone they are to inflammation, but the way we manage their treatment can directly impact on the degree of organ failure they will suffer.” HARM’S WAYS: Trauma specialist Professor Zsolt Balough. Trauma is the major killer for people aged below 45 and a leading cause of burden on society. Organ failure is the leading cause of death among accident patients who survive the first few days in hospital. “We are the first to show that this mechanism happens without any bacteria or infection.” The mortality rate is 25 per cent once a patient develops MOF, regardless of what initial injury they sustained. In collaboration with an HMRI immunology group led by Professor Phil Hansbro and University of Newcastle genomics expert Dr Doug Smith, Professor Balogh’s team has identified a key marker for inflammation – it is the naturally occurring mitochondrial DNA within cells. Professor Balogh likens them to a Trojan horse: “Every cell has hundreds of mitochondria living happily inside but when the cells die due to trauma the mitochondrial DNA leaks out,” he said. “It actually looks like bacterial DNA and, because it’s recognised as bacterial product, it activates the white blood cell receptors which then kill more tissue … a vicious cycle. “These activated white cells can also release their mitochondrial DNA, and we are the first to show that this mechanism happens without any bacteria or infection.” There is no magic ‘silver bullet’ for medical staff other than preventing the syndrome, but surgeons will eventually use this research to help determine whether to initially perform major or minimally invasive surgery. Passive smoking study sparks home unit law reform A study of cigarette smoke exposure in multi-unit housing by HMRI Public Health researcher Associate Professor Billie Bonevski has been instrumental in achieving proposed NSW Strata by-law reforms banning smoking in common areas. Associate Professor Bonevski, from the University of Newcastle, drew data from almost 161,000 participants in the NSWwide 45 and Up Study. Among this group, more than 12,000 people, including 8,000 non-smokers, were routinely exposed to smoke in their homes. Multi-unit dwellers were 19 per cent more likely to be exposed than those living in houses, with women most at risk. “In Australia the general population smoking rate is 15-18 per cent whereas among low income earners, the unemployed and those with mental illness, for example, rates are 50 per cent and up to 90 per cent. “A lot of Government-subsidised buildings are occupied by those from socially disadvantaged groups so the non-smoking residents are really at high risk of being exposed to toxic, carcinogenic nicotine drift. “To see these results taken up by policy makers is the reason we do what we do.” See Billie’s blog and video at

Hot off the Press Colorectal relief Patients with a high hereditary risk of developing colorectal cancer will benefit from a global study involving HMRI geneticist Professor Rodney Scott. The research focused on genetic faults responsible for Lynch Syndrome, an inherited condition affecting around five per cent of the 15,000 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer in Australia each year. Doctors will now be able to give patients a more accurate picture of their familial risk. “We were one of the main contributors to the global study because we have the largest collection of hereditary colorectal cancer cases of any single institute in the country, if not the world,” Professor Scott, co-leader of HMRI’s Information Based Medicine Program, said. Melanoma protein A protein that mediates the survival and death of melanoma cells has been identified by HMRI researchers, bringing hope for a new treatment method. Professor Xu Dong Zhang and Dr Lei Jin are examining the role of the protein RIPK1 in melanoma cell growth. “Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world,” Professor Zhang said. “It can be treated successfully if caught early, however metastatic melanoma is one of the most difficult cancers to treat, with a cure remaining elusive.” Leukaemia target Dr Kathryn Skelding has received Cure Cancer Australia support for a project aimed at developing a new targeted treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia. The Priority-Driven Young Investigator Project Grant will allow Dr Skelding from the University of Newcastle to study a protein known as BAALC that is overly expressed in leukaemia cells. “I will be investigating the role this protein plays in controlling leukaemia cell growth and survival, along with the development of resistance to chemotherapy,” she said. “New anti-cancer targets need to be identified to improve the outcomes without increasing side effects and toxicity.” Breast cancer prevention Taking the breast cancer drug Anastrozole for five years has reduced the chances of postmenopausal women at high risk of breast cancer developing the disease by 53 per cent compared with women who took a placebo. The results of the international prevention clinical trial called IBIS-II, run by the ANZ Breast Cancer Trials Group in conjunction with HMRI’S Cancer Research Program, could offer a new option for preventing breast cancer in moderate to high risk postmenopausal women. Keep in touch For the latest news see community HONOURED: Michael Calford, Maree Gleeson, Richard Anicich, Sonia Walkom and Bob Kennedy. Exceptional service Hunter business identities, researchers and academics who have supported HMRI beyond the call of duty were recognised recently at an Exceptional Service presentation. HMRI Board Chair Glenn Turner said sustained contributions by the seven recipients had helped put HMRI on the map as one of Australia’s leading health and medical research institutes. Richard Anicich: A HMRI Foundation member from 1998 to 2013 who helped attract new donors to HMRI, including the long-term association with the Sparke Helmore/NBN Television Triathlon. Karen Brown: Presented posthumously in honour of HMRI’s former Development Manager who passed away in February 2013 from breast cancer. Michael Calford: Joined the HMRI Board in 2006 in his role as Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle’s Faculty of Health, serving until 2013. Maree Gleeson OAM: Served as HMRI Director for five years from 2006, bringing a profound understanding of the health and medical research sector to the post. Robert Kennedy: Appointed Foundation Chair in 2006, Bob helped establish a Strategic Funding Committee. He then served as Chair of the HMRI Board for six years until retiring in March 2013. Nicholas Saunders AO: A HMRI Board member from 2004 to 2011 in his capacity as Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Newcastle. Lent guidance to the implementation of a strategic marketing plan,. Sonia Walkom: Another inaugural member of the HMRI Foundation, Sonia has leveraged her extensive corporate networks to increase the donor base and awareness of the Institute. The new recipients join Geoffrey Leonard AM, Katherine McGrath, Richard Owens OAM, Libby Rodgers-McPhee, John Rostas, Roger Smith AM, Jim Sullivan and Jennie Thomas AM on the honours list.

events Join the challenge to get PULSE racing They won’t need passports, but teams competing in the first PULSE Amazing Race Around Newcastle on March 30 will need to have their wits about them. Inspired by the hit reality TV show, the event will provide a raft of mental and physical challenges around Newcastle. The first team to complete all their challenges and cross the finish line will be adorned with medals and prizes. Take a break for kids with asthma Throughout April the Upper Hunter community of Singleton will be making their cups of tea and coffee count by raising vital funds for asthma research at HMRI. The HMRI Singleton Foundation has launched a campaign to join with cafés, restaurants, work places and individuals across the town to improve the health outcomes of kids with asthma. The potentially deadly disease results in more than 30,000 hospitalisations per year in Australia alone. HMRI respiratory researchers are tackling asthma on multiple fronts, starting by helping expectant mums manage their asthma symptoms during their pregnancy to targeting the genetic causes of the condition. A series of fundraising high teas, morning teas and afternoon teas will be held, so indulging in your daily cuppa will also help young asthmatics to breathe eaiser. If you would like to join the campaign in your area please visit the HMRI website for details on how you can add more than just sugar to your tea or coffee. Funds raised by PULSE will help support early career medical researchers at HMRI, so get your team together now. The race starts at 8am in Nesca Park on Sunday, March 30. It costs $160 per team of four, which includes a barbecue at the final destination. Register now at newcastle-amazing-race raising for research Simmone Markey Organiser of the 2014 Markey Charity Golf Day, April 4. Since 2008 this popular golfing event has raised over $207,000 for charities including HMRI and the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation. We asked Simmone a few questions ... Q: What inspired you to first hold this event? A: The first Markey Charity Golf Day was held after one of our staff members, Ryan Tomkins, died at just 19 from an asthma attack. Over the years we’ve also assisted a number of different causes affecting people in our organisation, such as cancer and stroke. Q: How did you go about setting it up? A: We mailed an invitation to all of our suppliers, in this case insurance providers, and our client base. They all knew Ryan and wanted in their own way to remember him. Q: What’s on the cards for this year? A: We sent out a Save The Date note last October and the event was sold out in two hours. We try to keep the day accessible to those who like to have fun and contribute to the cause. We raised around $40,000 last year and aim to achieve a little bit more again this year for stroke research. save the dates 15 March 2014: Oxford Ladies Lunch 30 March 2014: PULSE Amazing Race Around Newcastle 4 April 2014: Markey Golf Day 1 May 2014: All Shook Up Ball (Maitland) 18 May 2014: The Gastronomic Lunch of the Year Lot 1, Kookaburra Cct New Lambton M: Locked Bag 1000 New Lambton 2305 T: (02) 4042 1000 E: 14 June 2014: Charity Ball for MS Research (Pokolbin) 4 July 2014: HMRI Open Day 2014 6 September 2014: HMRI Ball 14 September 2014: PULSE Fashion High Tea 9 October 2014: HMRI Breast Cancer Lunch Visit the website for full details

Yes! I would like to make a donation in support of life changing research! DM-SEARCHER - 1314Q3 Please accept my single gift of: $30 $50 $100 My Choice: or ... Please accept my regular monthly gift of: $10 $15 My Choice: $20 Credit Card donations only. For Direct Debit from a nominated bank account, please call (02) 4042 1000 and request a separate form. Please complete details below and post this form (no stamp required) to: Hunter Medical Research Institute Reply Paid 86352, New Lambton NSW 2305 Card Number: Expiry: Security number: Name on card: Signature: VISA MasterCard Donations via VISA or MasterCard can also be made by calling (02) 4042 1000 Donations can be made online at Cheques and Money Orders can be mailed to Locked Bag 1000, New Lambton NSW 2305. All gifts of $2 or more are tax deductible. Name: Address: Phone: Mobile: Email: Date of birth: I would like further information about leaving a bequest to HMRI We really value our relationship with you and would like to keep you informed about our work. From time to time we may allow like-minded charities to contact you with fundraising materials. In return, they help us to reach more generous supporters like you. If you do not wish to receive communications from another charity or from HMRI, please call (02) 4042 1000, or tick one of the following boxes: Do not share my details I do not wish to receive further communications from HMRI Your support helps fund life-changing resesearch You can make a real difference When it comes to health no one can know what’s around the corner – certainly not Brooke Horton who, at just 27, was suddenly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). At the time, Brooke was caring for a baby son and supporting her own mother’s desperate cancer plight. When her eyesight began to blur and she experienced a pins-and-needles sensation she assumed stress and fatigue were to blame. Unfortunately, they were warning signs for the chronic and crippling neurological disease MS. “It was very hard to digest because I knew so little about the disease at the time,” Brooke says. “I felt broken, I felt lost, but also grateful to have such a supportive husband and family. I also joined a support group of inspiring young MS sufferers who HOPEFUL: Brooke Horton is helped get my life back learning to live with MS. on the right path.” At John Hunter Hospital, Senior Staff Specialist Jeannette Lechner-Scott heads a dedicated MS clinic treating more than 500 patients in the region. Associate Professor Lechner-Scott is also a researcher, collaborating with consortiums throughout the world to solve the MS mystery. Until 2011, only a handful of genetic variants had been discovered. Today, there are now 110 variants associated with MS and immune function. “There is an explosion of research in MS, and every known gene can lead to a new avenue for future drug treatment strategies,” Associate Professor Lechner-Scott said. “With the new medications and interventions available, my aim is to see MS patients going about their daily life without the disease being a major burden on them.” Through HMRI, Associate Professor Lechner-Scott is contributing to a world-first clinical trial testing whether Vitamin D supplements can prevent MS. Through other trials, two new oral medications were added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme over the past year. For Brooke Horton there is hope. “Knowledge is power,” she says. “I take my supplements, I take my Vitamin D, while Jeannette and others work towards understanding more about the causes of this disease.” You can help make life better for people like Brooke. Please donate today by completing the adjacent form, or online at Then mail us at HMRI, Reply Paid 86352, New Lambton NSW 2305.

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