Discovery allows immune protection during chemotherapy

A QUEENSLAND research breakthrough could relieve the suffering of millions of chemotherapy patients around the world after a scientist discovered how to flick a biological switch allowing the immune system to be better protected during the onslaught of chemo.

Science Minister Ian Walker said on Wednesday Mater Research's Associate Professor Ingrid Winkler was the one who made the all-important discovery.

"Every year about 25,000 Queenslanders are diagnosed with cancer and many will undergo chemotherapy," he said.

"Chemo attacks healthy cells as well as cancerous ones and many people require hospitalisation due to side-effects.

"Dr Winkler has found a way to put key immune system cells to sleep during chemo and then wake them up when they are needed.

"This has the potential to dramatically improve patients' recovery."

Dr Winkler said complications from chemotherapy arise due to collateral damage to normal stem cells in bone marrow.

"These cells, called Haematopoietic stem cells, are important in regenerating immune systems," she said.

"Usually when chemo is finished, a patient has nothing left to fight infection.

"This is because with the immune system temporarily down, patients become susceptible to bacterial infections."

Dr Winkler is currently in discussions with a US biotechnology company to continue the research through human trials.