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PA Hospital transplant patients set to benefit from world-first skin cancer drug

23 December 2020

A new topical medication could help prevent organ transplant recipients like Matty Hempstalk (pictured) from growing skin cancers resulting from the administration of common anti-rejection drugs.

Lead researcher Associate Professor James Wells said the world-first treatment being developed at The University of Queensland is the only drug of its type that can directly stop immune-suppressing drugs’ harmful side-effects, which prevent the body’s natural defence system from fighting off tumours.

 “Organ transplant recipients are 100 times more likely to develop aggressive squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) than the general population,” Dr Wells said.

“By using this new drug, the patient’s own immune systems can clear up the cells damaged from UV rays and prevent skin cancers from growing. Our goal is to establish the best possible outcome for the patient, which is no rejection of the transplanted organ and no skin cancer growth.”

Dr Scott Campbell, Assoc Prof medicine UQ and Nephrologist at Princess Alexandra Hospital said the new treatment would be transformative for patients if proven effective. 

“Cancer is the leading cause of death for kidney transplant recipients in Australia, not transplant failure or rejection. Some of our patients have half a dozen, even a dozen lesions removed every month so it is an incredibly inconvenient, unpleasant and at times dangerous problem for our patients,” Dr Campbell said.

“The cream Dr Wells has developed has the potential to free transplant patients trapped between the need for immunosuppression and the associated risk of dying from skin cancer.”

Dr Wells said his team is now looking for an angel investor to develop the formula for the cream and take the project into Phase 1 human trials before it can be made widely available to transplant patients.

Last updated 23 December 2020
Last reviewed 23 December 2020

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