Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation



New Treatment for Acute Lung Injury

Clearer Prognosis for Mesothelioma

Breathing Difficulties With CHF

Breathing A Sigh Of Relief For Lung Problems



New Treatment for Acute Lung Injury
First Published: Enews - February 2012

A grant from the Flinders Medical Centre Foundation in 2011 has helped pave the way to a potentially life-saving treatment for patients with acute lung injury.


Acute lung injury occurs when a person's lung tissue is damaged such as through a bacterial infection or trauma which is often caused by being placed on mechanical ventilation in an intensive care situation. The injury induces an inflammatory response caused by white blood cells.


The subsequent flooding of the airways with fluid and proteins results in impaired breathing and can lead to death. A Flinders research team led by Dr Dani-Louise Dixon, Head of the FMC Lung Injury Research Laboratory and Senior Medical Scientist in the Intensive and Critical Care Unit (ICCU) is investigating the potential of a peptide called feG for preventing the lung damage caused by inflammation.


The peptide occurs naturally in the salivary gland of animals where it may play a role in fighting infection through, for example, the licking of wounds.


"feG has been shown by our colleagues in Canada to be very beneficial for asthma as it appears to prevent inflammation by inhibiting the infiltration of white blood cells," Dr Dixon said.


"We are building upon this research to determine whether it could be administered directly into the lungs of patients who present to ICCU with a bacterial infection or other condition that might require mechanical ventilation."


Dr Dixon believes being able to administer feG directly to the lungs could decrease both the need for mechanical ventilation and the patient's length of stay in the ICCU.


After successful trials on the use of feG for preventing and treating acute lung injury in animal models, the Flinders team have a provisional patent for its use in acute lung injury.


"From here we'd like to commercialise the use of feG for preventing and treating acute lung injury in the ICCU setting, and explore other applications including for heart attacks and ischemia reperfusion injury," Dr Dixon said.



Clearer Prognosis for Mesothelioma
First Published: Enews - July 2011

Flinders researchers have identified a protein which is showing promise as both a prognostic marker and a potential target for new treatments for deadly asbestos-related mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to tiny airborne asbestos fibres, and most commonly develops on the pleura (the protective lining that covers the surface of the lungs and the internal chest wall).

In Australia, asbestos was widely used in construction and other industries between 1945 and 1989. Because of this heavy use and the long latency of the disease, Australia has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world and its occurrence is still continuing to rise.

Globally, events such as the bombing of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 have potentially exposed thousands of people such as tower workers, rescuers and nearby residents to asbestos-contaminated dust from building materials. Mesothelioma can take decades to develop, but once diagnosed the survival time for a patient is on average about one year. There is currently no cure, and upon diagnosis it is hard for clinicians to predict which patients will live for a few months and who will survive for a few years.

Flinders Medical Centre Pathologists Associate Professor Sonja Klebe and Professor Douglas Henderson are hoping a protein called aquaporin1 (AQP1), embedded in the cell membrane, will hold some answers for this aggressive disease.

Human cells have a number of aquaporins, which are responsible for a cell's transport of water and are also thought to play a role in pain perception and cell movement. AQP1 is showing particular promise as a prognostic marker.

"We have shown that increased levels of AQP1 are associated with significantly better survival in patients, compared to mesothelioma patients who have less AQP1," Associate Professor Klebe said.

"We have also been able to show that patients with more AQP1 also have an increase in fluid accumulating in the pleural cavity which surrounds the lungs and impairs breathing."

The team are working with Professor Yool from the University of Adelaide to trial a method of blocking AQP1 in cell cultures to see if it produces any positive effects.

"If successful, we hope to be able to inject the AQP1 blocker into the pleural space of a mesothelioma patient, to try to reduce the fluid accumulation and potentially slow progression of the disease," Associate Professor Klebe said.

The team are currently testing this method of blocking AQP1 in the laboratory on cells from the pleural effusion fluid of mesothelioma patients collected after diagnostic tests have been completed.

"If we can show an effect on these cells we hope to go directly to human trials," Associate Professor Klebe said.

The team hope the research could also have implications for the treatment of other tumours.



Breathing Difficulties With CHF
First Published: Investigator - January 2007


A team of researchers and cardiologists at Flinders Medical Centre, led by Prof Andrew Bersten and Dr Dani-Louise Bryan from the Department of Critical Care Medicine and Dr Carmine De Pasquale of the Cardiology Department, are focused on the changes that take place within the lung of those who suffer Chronic Heart Failure (CHF).


CHF is most common within the elderly who have suffered a heart complication and is an ongoing health problem with up to half of over 80 year olds suffering from this condition.


“The biggest problem for sufferers of CHF is the inability to breathe properly,” said Prof Bersten. “So shortness of breath, an inability to exercise and fatiguing easily are all associated with these changes within the lung.”


There are two sorts of heart failure that occur in CHF, systolic heart failure which causes a weakened heart due to an inability to pump blood out and diastolic heart failure, a stiff heart caused by an inability to fill with blood properly. Both of these can lead to fluid or blood backing up into the lung, causing high pressure damage. In turn this can lead to chronic changes in the lung blood vessels and tissues, similar to that seen with pulmonary fibrosis. While this can be beneficial by reducing the amount of fluid in the lung, it also makes the lung stiffer, thereby worsening breathing difficulties.


Fibrosis is a process the body undertakes to heal itself, however, there are circumstances where this causes further problems. In the lung, fibrosis can make the lung stiffer and increase the barrier for oxygen transfer into the blood.


Researchers at Flinders are investigating the mechanisms that cause fibrosis in the lung with the intention of understanding at what point these changes become harmful. This could allow for the creation of an interventional drug to better manage this debilitating part of CHF.


“Currently we are trying to understand what is going on within the lung in CHF with the ambition of eventually being able to modify the changes to allow for patients to breathe easier,” said Dr Bersten.


Breathing A Sigh Of Relief For Lung Problems
First Published: Investigator - October 2003


A test to assist with the detection and management of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and other lung problems in intensive care patients has been developed by doctors at Flinders.


The non-invasive test detects a protein (surfactant protein B) found in the bloodstream. This protein is normally confined to the air spaces of the lung, but when it leaks into the bloodstream its reveals not only lung damage but also levels of lung damage.


Surfactant is released with each breath or sigh, and lines the lungs allowing the surface tension to vary as you breathe.


Assessing lung health has previously been hindered by the fact that the lungs are inaccessible, particularly for patients with life threatening Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).


This new blood test can therefore be used to predict who might develop severe lung problems.


ARDS is a worldwide problem affecting more than 1,500 Australian each year and more than 40% of those patients will die.


This lung test has been developed over many years with the help of funding from many sources including the FMC Foundation and more recently, a $250,000 Biocatalyst grant from the State Government development group, BioInnovationSA.


This funding will assist the test to be launched commercially by Lung Health Diagnostics P/L - a spin off company formed by Professor's Andrew Bersten from FMC's Critical Care Unit and Ian Doyle and Terry Nicholas from Flinders University's Department of Human Physiology.

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