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Women’s Research Excellence Award 2016 – Kisha Sivanathan

Kisha Sivanathan is leading the way to develop an alternative to heavy reliance on pharmaceutical drugs post organ transplant with her intensive stem cell research.

Since completing her PhD at the University of Adelaide in August 2016, Kisha has not only been recognised for her work by receiving the Women’s Research Excellence Award, but also recently received her first independent project grant to extend the scope of her studies in stem cell research, immunology and transplantation.

Supervised by leading researchers Associate Professor Toby Coates, Professor Stan Gronthos and Associate Professor Benjamin Thierry, Kisha’s goal is to reduce the reliance on pharmaceutical drugs which cause a lot of side effects for transplant patients, one of which is cancer.

“The problem with transplanting an organ is that the body will recognise this as foreign so will start mounting an immune response to the transplanted organ, which can cause the organ to be rejected. To avoid this from happening, patients are given pharmaceutical drugs which control the rejection response.”

However, reliance on pharmaceutical drugs is not the best strategy for long term success. In a transplant situation, generally the inflammation occurs only at the rejection site but because pharmaceutical drugs are not site specific to the inflammation area, it causes the whole immune response to become suppressed, resulting in patients having overall declined immunity.

The optimum outcome of transplantation is to prevent rejection and promote a condition known as transplantation tolerance, which means the patient can accept the new organ and generate new supportive cells, without needing a long term prescription of drugs to support the transplant.

“One attractive property of adult mesenchymal stem cells is that they can control the inflammatory response and hone in on the specific site of the inflammation, creating a localized suppression, and not a global suppression of the immune response.”

Kisha will now further her research at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, working on increasing the potency of these stem cells.

“My project which has just been approved is specifically looking at the way we can improve the potency of these mesenchymal stem cells. I found that giving the stem cells a boost before injecting them into a patient will increase their function. The concept is that if we prime them before injecting them, then we have activated and boosted cells, so they start secreting more of these proteins and molecules that suppress the immune response which is what we want in a transplant setting.”


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