Publish Date: 
Tuesday, November 26, 2019 - 12:45

An important collaboration between researchers from the Mater Hospital, the Translational Research Institute (TRI) and the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD) has led to a significant breakthrough in blood cancer research.  

The multi-disciplinary team, led by GRIDD’s Dr Alexandre Cristino and Professor Maher Gandhi from Mater Research, has discovered a new mechanism used by the Epstein-Barr virus to evade the immune system.

The findings are significant with the virus capable of causing lymphoma and other blood cancers.  

According to Dr Cristino, the team found how viral small RNA regulate the expression of immune-checkpoints, which are proteins that can stop the immune system attacking cancer cells.   

“One of the most promising forms of immunotherapy at the moment is inhibiting checkpoint proteins, enabling immune cells to recognise and destroy cancer cells," he said. 

We’re hoping our findings can lead to treatments for lymphomas and blood cancers which don't respond to conventional first-line immuno-therapies. 

After an extensive research process the team discovered a novel mechanism by which a viral small RNA (miR-BHRF1-2 encoded in the Epstein-Barr virus or EBV genome) regulates the expression of immune-checkpoints ligand PD-L1 and PD-L2 in EBV-positive diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL).   

The discovery continues the work being done across the world on immune boosting treatments to fight cancers and may lead to the development of novel RNA-based treatment therapies which can switch off checkpoint proteins to enhance the body’s natural anti-tumoral immunity.  

The research was published in Blood, a highly esteemed scientific journal, which is the most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field of haematology.   

PicturedDr Alexandre Cristino from Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery. Image courtesy Justin Ma/Griffith University