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Philanthropy Crucial to Cancer Cure

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Philanthropy Crucial to Cancer Cure

By DAVID HUDLESTON

Community philanthropy is more crucial than ever to finding a cancer cure, according to WA’s Cancer Researcher of the Year.

The  Cancer  Council WA awarded the honour to Mariapia Degli-Esposti, of Nedlands, for her ground-breaking research. Professor Degli-Esposti is a National Health and Medical Research Council principal re- search fellow at the University of WA and heads the Immunology and research divisions at the Lions Eye Institute.

Her work has shed light on how to treat the viral complications that can occur after bone marrow transplants,  generally considered the best treatment for blood cancer patients. The viral complications limit the therapeutic value of the transplants. “Our research  focuses on understanding  how we can harness the immune system to treat chronic viral infections and their  complications in cancer, transplantation  and autoimmunity,” Professor Degli-Esposti said.

“Several of  these complications also have a profound impact on vision. Big picture research impacts well outside a specific field and can provide insights into treatments for multiple diseases.”

She said she joined the Lions Eye Institute because its founder, Professor Ian Constable, fostered research  into big picture issues that will solve problems affecting vision as well as provide health benefits beyond the eye, a tradition that continues today.

But with government funding in a state of flux, community support was more critical than ever. “Cancer has an enormous impact on the community but we are at a point where we are seeing huge differences being made by new treatments,” she said.

“There are now ways to get the immune system to better fight tumours and the results that are being achieved with these new immunotherapies are truly amazing. These really are huge improvements.”

The research that resulted in her Cancer Council award was built on work that was started with a grant from the council and she respects the donors.

“I love my job but there is an- other thing that drives me, and this is the responsibility I have to those who have entrusted me to make a difference,” she said. “Right now is an exciting time for medical research, both in terms of the differences that we can make and how quickly we can make them.

“It is still a long road but things are moving faster than ever and in medical research we are on the cusp of so many great things.”

And she sees a future with cures for these diseases.

“At the moment we have great treatments, but I would like to see a future where we can stop these diseases,” she said.

“The insights that we have now are  extremely exciting, especially in cancer.

“We are almost at a point where we really understand what we need to be doing to have true curative therapies.  “We need to understand disease, but it is equally important to understand health.

“The Lions Eye Institute encourages big picture research, and has supported my efforts into cancer, infection and immunology.

“Discovery research has been and will always be the key to the changes that will make a big difference to health outcomes.

“Translational research is very important, but we should not forget that you need something to translate and we cannot lose sight of  how valuable discovery research is.”

She said receiving the award was a huge honour because it was an acknowledgement of her work by  her peers.

“It’s even more exciting because of  the role the Cancer Council played in supporting our earlier work in this area,” she said.

Professor Degli-Esposti said an earlier grant from the Cancer Council allowed her to complete preliminary studies in this area for a paper published in the journal Blood.

She said this support was critical in her successful application for a significant National Health and Medical Research Council grant.

From this research she has developed pioneering pre-clinical models which, with effective collaborations with clinical leaders across the globe, will ensure findings are rapidly translated into clinical settings

This article appeared in the Subiaco Post, 17 June 2017

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