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Scientists at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and the University of Melbourne have discovered the cells that cause a common type of childhood leukaemia – T cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (T-ALL). Targeting of these cells may lead to improved treatments for this disease and help prevent relapse.

The team, led by Dr Matthew McCormack and Dr David Curtis of the Rotary Bone Marrow Research Laboratories and the University’s Department of Medicine at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, made the discovery whilst studying mice prone to developing this leukaemia.

The results have been published online today by the prestigious international journal Science.

The team found that with irradiation treatment in animal models, over 99 per cent of cells in the thymus were killed, but these stem cell-like cells persisted and rapidly recovered. This suggests that these cells may survive therapy and be responsible for relapsed disease following treatment.

Currently, children with T-ALL are given extended therapy over two to three years in an attempt to stop a relapse. More targeted therapy on the thymus cells could reduce the length and toxicity of treatment and prevent relapse.

Dr McCormack, a leading international expert on childhood leukaemia, said: “The cellular origins of this leukaemia are not well understood. Our discovery that these cells are similar to normal stem cells explains why they are capable of surviving for long periods. It also explains why they are remarkably resistant to treatment.”

Approximately 50 new cases of T-ALL are diagnosed every year in Australia, two thirds of these in children or adolescents. Adults also contract T-ALL, and the majority succumb to resistant or relapsed disease.


Dr Curtis, a Clinical Haematologist and head of the Leukaemia Research Program at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, said: “The identification of these cells provides an important target for the development and testing of new treatments for patients with T cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.”

The team will now focus on novel treatments capable of killing these cells, which may lead to clinical trials within the next five years.

The research also involved Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, UK.

The research was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Cancer Council Victoria, Leukaemia Foundation of Australia and the Fight Cancer Foundation (BMDI).

Scientists at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and the University of Melbourne have discovered the cells that cause a common type of childhood leukaemia - T cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (T-ALL). Targeting of these cells may lead to improved treatments for this disease and help prevent relapse.

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An Australian study into the effectiveness of a H1N1 swine flu vaccine has revealed a single dose produces an excellent response against the virus in most children.

The study, led by Professor Terry Nolan, Head of the Vaccine and Immunisation Research Program at the University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, and colleagues in major children’s hospitals around Australia has been published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“This influenza vaccine has shown an excellent level of protection against influenza in children following a single dose, although health authorities around the world have recommended two doses to provide optimum protection against this unpredictable infection,” Professor Nolan said.

“However, a single dose could be a viable option in the future.”

Results of the trial demonstrate a robust immune response after a single dose in children as young as six months of age, which is further enhanced by the administration of a second dose given three weeks later.

The clinical study included 370 healthy infants and children aged six months to nine years located in Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane. Participants were divided into two groups, and given either a 15 microgram or a 30 microgram dose of the vaccine, produced by Australian biopharmaceutical company CSL.

A second dose was given to each group three weeks later. Blood samples to test protective antibody levels were taken before the first dose, and following each dose of vaccine.

Analysis shows that following the initial dose, 15 microgram induces protective antibody levels in 92 percent of children aged six to 35 months; and 92.9 percent in children aged three to nine years. After a second dose, 100 per cent of children in both age groups had protective antibody levels. Immune responses were robust regardless of age, baseline immune status, or seasonal influenza vaccine immunisation status.

The vaccine was well-tolerated by the children studied, with minor adverse effects very similar to that seen with seasonal influenza vaccines. No safety concerns were noted in the study

“As influenza can be a very severe disease in young children which spreads rapidly in those attending school or daycare, the published results of this trial are important and timely,” Professor Nolan said.

‘Vaccinating children is a significant component of reducing influenza transmission in the community. We are continuing to see outbreaks of H1N1 influenza in the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore, we cannot assume the threat of the disease has passed in Australia.’

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