SOUTH Perth resident and Royal Perth Hospital (RPH) researcher Melita Cirillo is investigating the potential of using adult stem cells to treat one of the most common blood disorders in the elderly.
Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a disorder of the bone marrow that can progress to leukaemia in up to a quarter of cases.
Dr Cirillo said research has shown MDS patients can benefit from various immune therapies but none has been used routinely due to side effects including increased risk of infection.
“We’re investigating whether Mesenchymal Stromal Cells (MSCs) – adult stem cells that, while not an immune therapy as such, have been found to modulate the immune system – might be a safer alternative,” she said.
She described MSCs as versatile cells with special properties including being universal donor cells, meaning they could be taken from anyone and given to anyone else without the need for tissue matching that homed to sites of inflammation.
MSCs being infused into participants in Dr Cirillo’s project are obtained from the bone marrow of healthy donors and culture-expanded in RPH’s cell and tissue therapies manufacturing unit, Cell and Tissue Therapies WA.
Dr Cirillo said this preliminary “phase one” study was recruiting patients who had been identified as being in the early stages of MDS.
If the analysis of this initial phase showed positive results, then a larger phase two study would be undertaken.
While MDS is not curable for most patients, blood transfusions and treatment for infection are the most common of the currently available therapies for patients with early MDS.
Dr Cirillo is among seven researchers awarded fellowships in the inaugural round of Registrar Research Fellowships.
She said the ultimate goal of the research team was to save lives by finding a simple and effective treatment that could slow the progression of MDS and improve patients’ quality of life by limiting hospital visits and transfusions.
WA’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Gary Geelhoed said Dr Cirillo’s work highlighted the important research taking place in WA’s public health system.