Prof John Rasko AO

Cell therapy to treat cancer

Director of Cell and Molecular Therapies at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

Head of the Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program, Centenary Institute

Research success

John is a clinical haematologist, pathologist and scientist whose research is focused on cellular therapy – transplanting donor cells in cancer patients. It builds on knowledge from over sixty years of bone marrow transplants.

“The problem has been that cells that have killed the cancer can also kill the patient, so for years we’ve been trying to separate the attack on the leukaemia or cancer from the attack on the body,” he says.

“Gene therapy and stem cell research, which go hand in hand, may provide the answers we seek.”

John and his colleagues have made important findings in differentiating cells, and this knowledge will help in developing therapies for cancer and bleeding disorders.

Recently, working with scientists from the United States, he developed a gene therapy for haemophilia.

Springboard to success

John received his Cure Cancer grant in 2004 and used it as a springboard to success.

He says it was integral to many great findings in cellular therapy at a time when funding was difficult to come by.

“There’s compelling data that we’re on the cusp of realising our dream,” he says.

Under his leadership, the Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program at the Centenary Institute has been awarded $22 million in funding, and the Department of Cell and Molecular Therapies at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital has been awarded funding in excess of $5 million.

John has made a profound impact on his field. He was awarded the Eric Susman Prize in 2011 by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians for the most outstanding contribution to the knowledge of any branch on internal medicine, and the Distinguished Fellow Award in 2013, which is the highest award of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.

In 2012, John was appointed an Officer in the General Division in the Order of Australia (AO) for his ‘distinguished service to biomedical research in the field of gene and cell therapy.’

He serves on Hospital, State and National bodies including Chairman of GTTAC, Office of the Gene Technology Regulator – responsible for regulating all genetically-modified organisms in Australia – and immediate past Chair of the Advisory Committee on Biologicals, Therapeutic Goods Administration. His contributions to scientific organisations include co-founding (2000) and past-President (2003-5) of the Australasian Gene Therapy Society; Vice President (2008-12) and President-Elect (2016-17) of the International Society for Cellular Therapy; Scientific Advisory Committees and Board member for philanthropic foundations; and several Human Research Ethics Committees.

He is a founding Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.

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