Professor Ricky Johnstone has been awarded the 2023 Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence award from Perpetual Trustees.
The Ramaciotti Medal is an annual award of $50,000 and honours an individual who has made an outstanding discovery (or discoveries) in clinical or experimental biomedical research that has had an important impact on biomedical science, clinical science, or the way in which healthcare is delivered.
Professor Johnstone’s research focuses on finding novel therapies for poor-outcome childhood leukaemias, which make up 30 per cent of diagnosed childhood cancers.
The Kids’ Cancer Project has committed over $714,000 to Professor Johnstone’s research into leukaemia since 2016 and warmly congratulates Professor Johnstone on this well-deserved recognition of his amazing work.
Despite overall five-year survival rates for childhood leukaemia having greatly improved, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and subsets of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) remain characterised by poor prognosis with high chances of relapse.
Previous research identified that these leukaemias rely on genetic alterations that promote metabolic changes in cells. Professor Johnstone focused on how to target this metabolic process, exploiting it therapeutically to turn the cancer’s strength into a weakness and improve future treatments for children with leukaemia.
Significant improvements in the diagnosis, treatment and overall disease management have greatly enhanced the outcome for children suffering from leukaemia. In fact, the survival rate for children with leukaemia is 90 per cent.
However, despite this important progress, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and subsets of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) remain characterised by poor prognosis.
In these cases, current chemotherapy treatment regimens fail to completely eradicate the cancer, resulting in relapse, therapy resistance and disease progression.
Professor Johnstone’s project examined a set of genetic changes, specific to low-prognosis leukaemia patients, that could be exploited to improve treatment. These genetic changes drive cancer progression and therefore promote resistance to current therapy.
Thanks to advances in this research, it is now possible to target these genes and turn the cancer’s strength into weakness.
By developing novel, more specific therapies, it will be possible to improve the chances of survival for children with low prognosis leukaemias.
Professor Johnstone said he was delighted, humbled, and thankful to all and was excited about what lies ahead with a great team. He also made a special thanks to all his partners and supporters.
Learn more about his latest project funded by The Kids’ Cancer Project- Targeting altered serine metabolism in MLL-rearranged paediatric acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) | The Kids' Cancer Project (thekidscancerproject.org.au)