Decoding myeloma cancer

A disease that hides in the marrow, overtaking healthy cells with cancerous ones until holes develop in the bone is a confronting prospect even on paper.

But for 140,000 sufferers of multiple myeloma, the world’s second most common blood cancer, this is their reality. Now, however, the previously unknown mechanisms behind myeloma’s deadly escalation are being unravelled at the University of Adelaide to inform powerful new treatments.

"The treatments we're investigating could be used to extend the lifespans of a large proportion of those living with myeloma."Dr Vandyke

University researchers’ recent identification of markers for high-risk multiple myeloma stands as a critical step in the fight to improve survival rates for myeloma patients around the world. The team is investigating several candidates for involvement in the cancer’s spread and testing targeted therapies to interrupt it. 

With myeloma affecting so many worldwide, causing painful side effects and killing 80,000 every year, the research’s potential impact is significant. 

“The treatments we're investigating could be used to extend the lifespans of a large proportion of those living with myeloma,” says lead researcher Dr Kate Vandyke, “both by stopping the disease’s progression and preventing relapse after therapy.”

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cell—an immune cell residing within the bone marrow—that predominantly affects the elderly. Australia, with its rapidly aging population, faces one of the highest incidences of multiple myeloma in the world. 

The disease spreads by subverting normal bodily processes to its advantage. The cancer infiltrates microenvironments involved in blood cell formation and uses them to enable its own growth. By understanding and targeting these underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms, Dr Vandyke and her team hope to develop treatments to block the myeloma’s progression.

“We’ve identified three key mechanisms that potentially contribute—hypoxia, chemokine receptors and N-cadherin—and we’re currently testing therapies to target each of them.”

These novel therapies could potentially improve outcomes for those patients currently surviving only one or two years under traditional myeloma treatment.

Kate Vandyke

“It would be fantastic if we could improve these high-risk patients’ survival and quality of life. We’re really proud to be working in an area that can potentially impact so many people in Australia and around the world.”

By understanding and targeting these underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms, Dr Vandyke and her team hope to develop treatments to block the myeloma’s progression.

“We’ve identified three key mechanisms that potentially contribute—hypoxia, chemokine receptors and N-cadherin—and we’re currently testing therapies to target each of them.”

These novel therapies could potentially improve outcomes for those patients currently surviving only one or two years under traditional myeloma treatment.

“It would be fantastic if we could improve these high-risk patients’ survival and quality of life. We’re really proud to be working in an area that can potentially impact so many people in Australia and around the world.”

Learn more about Dr Vandyke