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Haematologist discovers secrets hidden in blood

Date

Ewa Kretowicz

Haematologist Dr Dipti Talaulikar removes a bone marrow sample stored at minus 80 degrees celsius in the tissue bank at Canberra Hospital.

Haematologist Dr Dipti Talaulikar removes a bone marrow sample stored at minus 80 degrees celsius in the tissue bank at Canberra Hospital. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

In an inconspicuous white chest freezer set to minus-80 degrees haematologist Dipti Talaulikar hopes to find the answers to a number of lymphoma riddles.

The incidence of blood cancers, like non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma, has more than doubled in the past 20 years and it is continuing to rise, for no known reason.

Doctors are also at a loss to explain why the cancer spreads to the chest and brain of some patients but not others. Dr Talaulikar hopes the tissue samples collected and stored at the Canberra Hospital will improve the life expectancy of people with blood cancers.

Haematologist Dr Dipti Talaulikar with a bone marrow sample stored at  the tissue bank at Canberra Hospital.

Haematologist Dr Dipti Talaulikar with a bone marrow sample stored at the tissue bank at Canberra Hospital. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The haematology research tissue bank has 5000 samples from more than 500 people diagnosed with lymphoma or autoimmune diseases but Dr Talaulikar said her team needs more funding to grow the collection.

''We have to decide which samples are the most likely to be useful, but if we had adequate resources we would look at collecting a lot more. Basically each missed sample is a lost opportunity for a discovery,'' Dr Talaulikar said.

The researcher and lecturer at the ANU Medical School started the tissue bank five years ago. ''When we do a bone marrow biopsy we ask them for consent - I've only had one or two patients refuse in about five years now. We store the blood and bone marrow for future research,'' she said.

''We are hoping to make some connections with autoimmunity and non-Hodgkins lymphoma … and also what causes lymphoma to spread from the lymph node to the bone marrow or other organs.

''You can get lymphoma in the chest or even lymphoma in the brain. We don't know what causes the lymphoma cells to move from the primary cell to the lymph node and to all these different sites and that's what we are trying to find out.'' Dr Talaulikar said most patients with lymphoma need to be treated with chemotherapy. ''So that impacts quite hugely on their lives … what's exciting is that if we figure out which genes or molecules are involved in the spread we can potentially start developing new treatments which block that and that way you are keeping the lymphoma fairly contained.''

Donations to help increase the funding of the tissue bank can be made through the Canberra Hospital Foundation at www.canberrahospitalfoundation.org.au

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