Dr Colm Keane

Lymphomas hold key to more effective therapies

Colm’s research grant is co-funded with Cancer Australia.

Colm Keane is a Brain Lymphoma Researcher at the University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute, having completed his PhD at Griffith University in 2015. He has a particular interest in a rare brain lymphoma found in some HIV patients.

Investigating cancers that occur in patients with HIV can potentially provide scientists with insights into how the human immune system controls cancers in the body, and how it can be manipulated to treat these cancers.

The Research

By gaining a better understanding of the unique features the primary brain lymphoma has, Colm intends to show the way to more effective, tailored therapies. It is likely that the way the HIV virus aids this specific tumour is quite unique and something that can be altered by boosting the immune system.

‘We’ve tried to illustrate the important role for immune responses in lymphomas, where immune therapy has surprisingly lagged behind the advances in solid tumour research,’ explains Colm.

‘We’ve worked hard with our patients to get samples in order to research these lymphomas more completely and gain real-world knowledge of how patients’ specific tumours are affected by the therapy they receive.’

The Importance of Funding

Colm sees his Cure Cancer grant as a vital step forward. ‘The grants are the lifeblood of cancer research and herald the next world-class breakthroughs,’ he says. ‘Even if it a particular grant does not lead to a major discovery, the expertise and knowledge researchers gain along the way will influence future work in the field.’

‘Alternatively some small facet of the research might inspire someone else to think about the next breakthrough,’ Colm says. ‘One needs grants and papers to get larger funding and this takes time, yet getting an early-career grant is so difficult. You can spend three months writing and getting preliminary data together, then have to wait six months to know if you’ll actually be able to do your project! When I review other projects, I’m often amazed at the great work that doesn’t get funded.’

In the 15 years Colm has worked in haematology, he’s met many patients, and well remembers those who did not have good outcomes. They inspire him to work hard so that ultimately no one will have to endure what they did.

‘When there’s a major breakthrough I often reflect with sadness that the patient who died five years ago might still be here if the new therapy was available. It’s important we advocate for more research and earlier availability of life-changing medications. In the disease groups I treat the breakthroughs are incredible, but we have so much still to learn so we can pick the best therapy for each individual.’