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MEDIA RELEASE | TRANSPLANTATION BREAKTHROUGH

Posted on Jan 24th 2019 by in Media Releases, News, Uncategorized

An Australian medical discovery involving teams from Perth’s Lions Eye Institute has made a major breakthrough in controlling infections in organ and bone marrow transplant recipients.

  • The latest research breakthrough achieved at Lions Eye Institute has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
  • Ground-breaking research by LEI Head of Experimental Immunology Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti and her team has attracted worldwide attention following its release in Science last week.

Researchers from the Lions Eye Institute and QIMR Berghofer have found a way to control the virus which causes one of the most common life-threatening infections in bone marrow and organ transplant patients.

The image demonstrates how antibodies (Y shaped) that are specific for particular CMV viral strains (antibodies are the same colour as the viruses) are able to stop them from reactivating. If the virus and the antibodies don’t match up, the virus escapes immune control and reactivates. There are no specific antibodies that can fight the “black” CMV viral strain, so this virus can reactivate and cause infection and disease.
Picture credit: Image provided by Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti, created by Leonie Herson, Square Cell

The research published in one of the world’s top academic journals, Science, reveals how preventing reactivation of a common virus – Human Cytomegalovirus – using a patient’s own antibodies could be extremely effective in reducing the impact of this infection in transplant patients.

The team of WA researchers led by Lions Eye Institute Head of Experimental Immunology, Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti, and including Dr Chris Andoniou and Peter Fleming, along with investigators from QIMR Berghofer in Brisbane and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle led by Professor Geoff Hill, created a new mouse model to examine the reactivation of CMV during transplantation.

The team discovered that antibodies are key to limiting reactivation and injecting mice with their own anti-viral antibodies – a form of serotherapy – protected them from CMV reactivation. They believe the results will translate to humans in future clinical trials.

“HCMV reactivation is particularly problematic in the setting of transplantation, and affects the successes of both solid organ and stem cell transplants,” Professor Degli-Esposti said.

“Despite much effort being put into improving the control of CMV reactivation in transplantation, we still fall very short of effective treatments and CMV reactivation remains associated with significant sickness and even death.”

Professor Degli-Esposti said traditional immunotherapy approaches to managing CMV relied on controlling the virus once it had reactivated rather than preventing reactivation.

The big breakthrough came when Professor Degli-Esposti and Professor Hill’s teams joined their efforts in targeting this important clinical problem.

“The discoveries we made were only possible by having world-leading viral and transplant immunologists working together,” she said.

“Together we created a novel model of CMV reactivation in the mouse which we used to dissect the components of the immune system required to keep CMV from reactivating and causing disease.

Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti (PhD)

“We have found that protection from reactivation is achievable using passively acquired antibodies.

“But viruses are clever and keep adapting and changing. These slightly different viral strains trick the immune system and bypass the critical defence check-points.

“Indeed, although we are just beginning to recognise the enormous strain variability that exits for HCMV, we know that people are often infected with more than one HCMV variant. But matching antibodies to the infecting CMV strains bypasses the problem and in these pioneering mouse studies conferred great protection from CMV reactivation.

“It is hoped that this will provide a therapeutic strategy for transplant patients not only because of the extreme effectiveness in preventing reactivation, but also because this approach has a very low risk profile.

“Our research has provided a new strategy to control CMV reactivation and the exciting possibility that we will be able to reduce rates of sickness and death among organ and bone marrow transplant recipients, as well as lower the high costs currently involved in managing this common infection.”

Studies in the United States and Europe have estimated that HCMV infection increases the cost of post-transplant care by AU$81,000-$103,000, ($US58,000-$74,000 and €25,000-€30,000). Thus, in addition to the benefits to patients, the potential savings to health systems worldwide from a CMV antibody therapy could reach into the hundreds of millions.

Media Contact for LEI: Francesca Robb – francescarobb@lei.org.au / 0409 102 556

Media Contact for QIMR Berghofer: Gail Burke – gail.burke@qimrberghofer.edu.au /0427 179 216 (after hours contact: 0458 650 200)

Media Contact for Lions Australia Save Sight Foundation: Ambrose Depiazzi – Chair – (08) 9387 1117

About Lions Save Sight Foundation (WA) Inc.

The Foundation was formed in 1970 & incorporated in January 1971. It is a joint project of the two West Australian Districts with a Board drawn equally from each. It was originally set up to provide a mobile testing system for Glaucoma & Amblyopia throughout the State. By 1974 it had grown considerably & was instrumental in the establishment of the Lions UWA Chair of Ophthalmology at The University of WA, a Chair underwritten by Lions & still heavily funded to this day by the Lions of WA. In 1984 it was resolved to hive off the more medically based activities & the Lions Eye Institute (LEI) was formed. This body has two major arms being a clinician’s division & a research division; jointly they employ some 200 people. In 2017 our
clinicians saw just over 55,000 patients who had been referred to them. The research arm is undertaking many exciting programmes one of which, currently under human trials, is to eliminate the need for monthly needles in treatment of Wet Macular Degeneration. Our Foundation continues to be the link between Lions Clubs & our LEI whilst still funding our Chair of Ophthalmology & several ongoing research fellowships.

 

 

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