Developing therapies for the toughest of blood cancers

Dr Donia Moujalled is a post-doctoral research fellow in Associate Professor Andrew Wei's Leukemia Translational Research Group at the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases (ACBD). She received funding from Cancer Council Victoria for a project grant as sole chief investigator, valued at $300,000 (for 3 years, 2018-2020).

The project title is 'Targeting Survival programs in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia'. Donia is working on Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), a haematological malignancy that has a poor prognosis due to resistance to current therapies and to relapse.

ALL has the worst outcome of all blood cancers – a five-year survival rate of about 30%. This is due to the disease’s notorious resistance to available therapies and to relapse. Current treatments using chemotherapy are toxic, so Donia's work focuses on identifying novel therapies to develop treatment strategies to revolutionise treatment of ALL patients.

In Andrew Wei's lab Donia has established a translational pipeline that incorporates high throughput drug screening of patient samples as well as validating drug efficacy in vivo.

Donia says that her research focus is on the BCL2 family of pro-survival proteins and targets common to malignant clones are regulated by the BCL2 family of proteins.

"We have shown that using compounds called BH3 mimetics targeting the pro-survival proteins BCL-2 and MCL1 can cause cell death of ALL patient samples. This project will examine the ability of a novel BCL2 and a MCL1 inhibitor to eradicate ALL – either as a single agent or in combination with standard chemotherapy drugs or novel compounds in pre-clinical mouse models of ALL."

Donia will also examine ALL patient samples in a world-first clinical trial for adult patients at The Alfred Hospital.