Rare cancer research

Identifying a predictive response to immunotherapy in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma

Dr Adel Aref

Dr Adel's grant is generously funded by The Julius Charody Family and Friends.

Adel is a clinician and medical oncologist with over ten years of experience working in Egypt, UAE (Dubai), and the Kingdom of Bahrain. Although he found clinical practice rewarding and fulfilling, his passion for cancer research never waned.

During his time working in the Gulf region, Adel attended several workshops and training courses in cancer research and clinical trial methodology. In 2016, he applied for a PhD by research at the University of Adelaide, where he was awarded a three-year scholarship, earning his PhD degree in 2019. He is now based at the Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI) in New South Wales.

Dr Adel's Research

Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, and is caused by exposure to asbestos. Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world due to extensive use of asbestos in the past. Even though asbestos is now banned in Australia, the number of Australians with mesothelioma is growing because the disease can take decades to develop.

The five-year survival rate for patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma is poor - less than 10% - so new treatments are urgently needed. For some types of cancer, including melanoma, immunotherapy has greatly improved patient outcomes. There is evidence that a similar treatment approach for MPM results in extended survival and improved quality of life for just under 30% of patients. Side effects of this treatment can range from mild to severe.

Adel’s project will analyse thousands of proteins in MPM cancer samples from patients who have been treated with immunotherapy, together with their clinical outcome data. Using advanced computational techniques, Adel and his team hope to find the pattern in the protein data ("protein signature") that predicts whether the patient is likely to benefit from this type of treatment. Patients who will not benefit will therefore avoid unnecessary side effects and the time lost on a treatment that will be futile for them.

The technology we’re utilising is suitable for rapid clinical deployment; therefore, if the results of this study are validated in an additional MPM patient cohort, the protein signature can be translated into clinical practice and benefit patients in a relatively short timeframe.​” – Dr Adel Aref

The importance of funding

“Early-career researchers face significant hurdles when it comes to funding their research projects. In recent years, funding agencies and organisations have been inundated with a high volume of applications, making it increasingly difficult to secure research grants. This challenge has been exacerbated by worldwide economic challenges, which have impacted the funds allocated to research both in Australia and globally. The competition for limited funds has created a challenging environment for early career researchers, who often face significant disadvantages when compared to more experienced researchers.

“I strongly believe that the Cure Cancer grants play a critical role in advancing cancer research and supporting cancer patients in Australia. The recognition of early-career researchers and the impact they can make through their innovative ideas is what makes Cure Cancer unique and inspiring. Through funding early career researchers, Cure Cancer is really fostering the next generation of cancer research leaders in Australia.”

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