Australia’s New Blood Cancer Clinic to Identify At-Risk Families

Australia’s first multi-disciplinary blood cancer clinic to screen families at risk of leukaemia and lymphoma will be established in Adelaide.

The clinic will be part of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Haematology Clinic and has been funded by a $1.3 million Federal Government grant awarded to University of South Australia and SA Pathology researcher Dr Chris Hahn and his team.

Using the latest DNA sequencing technologies, Dr Hahn, from the Centre for Cancer Biology, will lead a multidisciplinary team of haematologists, geneticists, genetic counsellors, research nurses and research scientists to identify families carrying genetic mutations that increase their risk of developing blood cancers.

Leukaemia and lymphoma — 10 per cent of which are inherited — are the sixth most common cancers in Australia, behind breast, prostate, colorectal, melanoma and lung cancer.

“Hereditary cases of blood cancers are devastating for families,” Dr Hahn said.

“A lot of people are aware that breast cancer, prostate cancer or colon cancer can occur in families, this is going to that next level for blood cancers.

“By identifying genetic mutations in families affected by leukaemia or lymphoma, medical specialists will be able to better monitor individuals at risk, counsel those affected and help improve cancer outcomes by early detection.

“Bone marrow transplantation can potentially cure individuals with blood cancer. Knowing the predisposing mutation will also enable us to screen for family members as potential bone marrow donors and rule out those carrying the mutation.”

The new clinic is on track to begin running by the middle of the year.

Dr Hahn said there were four similar familial clinics running in the United States — three of which only opened last year — but none in Europe or Australia.

He said identifying new genes or pathways leading to the development of blood cancers opened the possibility for testing new drugs as they became available.

“The more we know about genetic mutations the more likely we can identify the ‘Achilles heel’ of a family’s mutation that might be targeted by drugs or other therapies,” Dr Hahn said.

“Ultimately, our aim is to personalise the treatment, so it is tailored for each patient to achieve the best possible treatment outcomes.”

The Australia Familial Haematological Cancer Clinic (AFHCC) will have access to the largest collection of families with blood cancers in Australia on which to base their research, carried out within the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

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