Moonie’s March

“My name is Sarah. I’m the eldest of three children, work in the sports industry and currently live in Melbourne. My Dad, Gary (or ‘Moonie’ as he was affectionately known), passed away from kidney cancer after an 18-month battle in 2018. He was 56.

Unfortunately, Dad’s kidney cancer was Stage Four, and aggressive by the time he was diagnosed. We watched as he tried numerous treatments, and as the cancer took away our strong and healthy Dad.

He was lucky enough to try some trial drugs in some form, but in some cases the cancer was too far progressed in order for him to meet the requirements. Research, treatments and medications have come so far in the last few years, but I still believe that they need as much support as possible to ensure that everyone is given a chance to fight this beast.

Growing up in the small town of Coolamon in NSW, with just over 1500 residents, there was a real sense of local community. My dad spent countless hours volunteering at both the local AFL club, and community showground. When I decided to organize an event to raise money for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation in Dad’s honour, I chose a route that circled these locations to represent the contribution he made to the community on what would have been his 57th birthday.

Moonie’s March is a 5km walk, followed by a BBQ, activities, live music and entertainment. The community is showing incredible support, and we are expecting 250 people to attend. Our goal was to raise $10,000 and we have already hit $11 500 before the event has been held!

They are also using the opportunity to open a new shelter at the local footy oval which will be named after our Dad.

I support ACRF as I don’t want anyone to experience what my Dad or family went through. We are so close to big breakthroughs in cancer research that we can’t slow down – we need to continue to invest and keep momentum in the research that is already taking place. Dad was a big believer in the work that is being done within the cancer research space by doctors and scientists.

Dad’s primary cancer was kidney cancer, but he didn’t have any symptoms until the secondary tumors on his brain started pressing on his nerves. He never had any symptoms, and the doctors said that had no idea how long the kidney cancer had been there. Being diagnosed with Stage Four cancer meant that he was defeated before even starting any treatments. Everyone should be given an opportunity to fight, and win.” – Sarah, ACRF Supporter

‘Cellular barcoding’ reveals how breast cancer spreads

A cutting-edge technique called cellular barcoding has been used to tag, track and pinpoint cells responsible for the spread of breast cancer from the main tumour into the blood and other organs.

The technique also revealed how chemotherapy temporarily shrinks the number of harmful cells, rather than eliminating them, explaining how the cancer could eventually relapse.

Insights from the study, published today in Nature Communications, could lead to new targeted treatments for breast cancer, the most common cancer to affect women.

At a glance

  • A technique called cellular barcoding has been used to understand how breast cancer spreads.
  • The study also revealed how the cancer can relapse by showing that chemotherapy temporarily shrinks harmful cells rather than eliminating them.
  • The precision of this approach could help to focus research efforts and inform more targeted treatments for the prevalent disease.

Dr Delphine Merino, Dr Tom Weber, Professor Jane Visvader, Professor Geoffrey Lindeman and Dr Shalin Naik led the highly collaborative research that involved breast cancer biologists, clinician scientists, biotechnologists and computational experts at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Pinpointing the ‘seeders’ of disease

Most deaths from breast cancer are caused by the metastasis, or spread, of cancerous cells from the main tumour site into other organs.

Breast cancers consist of thousands of different cell variants with diverse characteristics that may or may not play a role in the metastasis of the cancer. This makes effective treatment a challenge because it is difficult to know which cells are responsible for driving the spread of cancer.

Dr Merino said the ability to pinpoint the ‘clones’ – subpopulations of cells arising from an original patient tumour – responsible for the spread of cancer was crucial for improving treatments.

“Our study revealed that only a select few clones were actually responsible for the metastasis.

“The barcoding technique enabled us to identify the clones that were able to get into the blood stream and make their way into other organs where they would ‘seed’ new tumour growth,” Dr Merino said.

Professor Visvader said the technique also allowed the researchers to see what was happening to the clones after chemotherapy was introduced.

“We used the chemotherapy agent Cisplatin to treat laboratory models developed using donated breast tumour tissue. While the treatment was able to shrink tumours and the size of individual clones, it did not kill them off completely. All the clones, including the nasty seeders, eventually grew again, accounting for cancer relapse.

“These exciting findings would not have been possible without the ability to meticulously barcode and track thousands of individual clones and watch their behaviour over time,” she said.

New technique ‘tags and tracks’

The cellular barcoding technique was developed in 2013 by Dr Naik and Professor Ton Schumacher from the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

Dr Naik said this new technique meant researchers could go from studying thousands of clones, to homing in on the select few variants responsible for the spread of cancer.

“Now that we know which clones are involved in the spread of breast cancer, we have the power to really focus our research to block their activity. For instance, we are curious to understand what is unique about these particular clones that enables them to successfully spread, seed and grow the cancer,” Dr Naik said.

Professor Visvader said the precision of the approach could pave the way for unravelling important mysteries in the field of breast cancer research and equip scientists with the information needed to design highly targeted treatment strategies for the prevalent disease.

“An important goal is to understand the molecular and cellular basis of how breast cancer spreads and, working with clinician scientists like Professor Lindeman, translate this knowledge from the laboratory into the clinic,” she said.

This article was originally posted on the WEHI website.

Hot Rods for Research

“Over the years my wife and I have lost many friends to cancer, as well as knowing many people who have been affected by cancer in one way or another.  To help raise much-needed funds for cancer research, we organized a get together with like-minded Hot Rods and custom cars enthusiasts on the South Coast of NSW.

The weekend starts Friday, with a meet and greet, and on Saturday we head off on a mystery cruise down the coast, stopping to enjoy fish and chips.”

Saturday night we have live entertainment in the Holiday Park until late. Sunday is our major event – the ‘Show n Shine’, where entrants judge six different awards. We have a raffle, and end the weekend at about lunchtime Sunday. It is a great laidback weekend, with great people and cool vehicles. Best of all, we help out two very worthy causes – with everyone who enters making a donation to ACRF and bringing a toy which we donate to Canberra Hospital.

In the last couple of years, my wife lost her sister Vicky. We dedicated this very special weekend to her. We also lost a very close friend to cancer – both had very long battles with cancer and both of them suffered terribly.

Our weekend doesn’t raise a massive amount but they say every little bit helps. Hopefully, someday a cure will be as simple as treating a common cold. There are many kind-hearted people who attend the weekend, many of whom have been affected by cancer. We plan on holding the weekend annually continuing to donate the proceeds to the ACRF.

We were very impressed with what we were told when we called ACRF to find out more about their work. We were also very impressed with how appreciative the ACRF is. You can see how passionate they are about their work.

As I mentioned before, we dedicate the weekend to the memory of my wife’s sister Vicky Hinds. We hope whatever the weekend raises, it is of some help for ACRF’s invaluable research.

– Lee, ACRF Supporter

A new pattern of DNA tags points to a ‘seed’ for cancer

A close-up view of the two meters of DNA inside prostate cancer cells has uncovered new clues about how normal cells turn cancerous.

In a breakthrough study published in Cancer Cell today, a team led by Garvan Institute of Medical Research scientists describes a new pattern of chemical tags found on the DNA inside cancer cells, which reveals new insights into why cancer DNA is read differently than the DNA in normal cells. By better understanding the precise changes that take place when normal cells become cancerous, the researchers hope to uncover new ways to treat or prevent cancer from developing.

“We’ve found a new process in DNA that goes wrong when cancer develops,” says co-senior author of the paper Professor Susan Clark. “We were looking at chemical features or ‘tags’ associated with the DNA that mark which regions are turned on and which regions are turned off.  We found to our surprise a new pattern of chemical tags that spread into regions that are untagged in the DNA of normal cells.”

Uncovering hidden patterns

Uncovering hidden patterns

Cancer cells are the body’s own cells ‘gone bad’ – and the key to stopping the dangerous switch could be hiding in their differences. One such difference, investigated by the Garvan scientists, is the pattern of so-called methyl groups, tiny chemical tags found naturally in cells which can attach to DNA and change how it is read.

In the DNA of cancer cells, some of the regions referred to as ‘CpG islands’ are completely coated with methyl tags – much like heavy snow covering a stretch of road, making it difficult to navigate.

This methyl tag ‘snow’ turns the gene next to the CpG island off by blocking the cancer cell from reading that gene. In normal cells, these CpG islands are untagged, allowing the neighbouring gene to be switched on. “We’ve been interested for a long time in what it is about these CpG islands in cancer cells that allow methyl tags to attach,” says Associate Professor Clare Stirzaker, co-senior author of the paper.

For a more detailed look at these CpG islands, the team used methylation sequencing to analyse all 28 million methyl tags found on the DNA from prostate cancer patients’ cells and compared them with the location of these tags in normal prostate cell DNA.

Lead author Dr Ksenia Skvortsova discovered a surprisingly intricate pattern – around 13 percent of CpG islands were in fact not completely ‘snowed under’ by methyl tags but only partially covered at the borders, like snow spreading into the shoulder of a road.

“We were excited to see this new altered methylation pattern and how common it was in different cancer types – it was something that hadn’t been observed before and provided us with new insights into how DNA is marked and read differently in cancer,” says Professor Clark.

The new pattern pointed the team to a process that regularly occurs at CpG island borders. In normal cells, Dr Skvortsova discovered, CpG island borders are covered in so-called hydroxymethyl tags that are known to remove methyl tags – a ‘cleaning’ process, which the team’s findings suggest is disrupted in cancer.

It’s all in the DNA wrapping

But what is special about CpG island borders that could disrupt the normal methyl tag cleaning process in cancer? To address this question, the team investigated the histones – the molecules around which DNA wraps like a spool, and which help package up the two-meter-long string of DNA found inside just one microscopic human cell.

The team discovered that the histones around which CpG island borders are wrapped have a separate, so-called mono-methylated tag on them. “Interestingly it is these histone tags in normal cells that seem to predispose certain CpG islands to the spreading of methyl tags we see in cancer cells,” explains Dr Skvortsova.

While it is not yet known how the mono-methylated histones might control how methyl tags are added to DNA, the researchers propose that these histones are the key to a sensitive balance of how DNA is correctly read, and which can provide a ‘seed’ for cancer to develop.

“The DNA structure was discovered in the 1950s, it was fully sequenced in the 2000s, but interestingly we still don’t understand how it’s read differently in different cell contexts,” says Professor Clark. “The new tools we are developing to read methyl tags and histone tags bring us closer to deciphering the blueprint of life.”

 

Illustration by Nikita Skvortsov. Original article can be found on the Garvan Institute Website.

The Power of a Single Cell: Safer Bone Marrow Transplants for Blood Cancer Patients

The results of the phase I clinical trial have been published today in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

The research was led by QIMR Berghofer scientist Dr Siok Tey. Dr Tey is also a bone marrow transplant physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital where the trial occurred.

About 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma each year.

QIMR Berghofer has received four grants from ACRF for cancer research including blood cancer, totaling $8.4M.

Bone marrow transplantation is the only chance of a cure for patients with high-risk forms of blood cancer, Dr Tey said, with about 700 Australians undergoing a bone marrow transplant each year.

“However, there are many others who need a transplant but cannot undergo one because they do not have a suitably matched donor,” she said.

“The key to bone marrow transplantation is the immune cells. Immune cells are a double-edged sword – they are necessary for fighting cancer and infection but they can also cause unwanted tissue damage, known as graft-versus-host disease.

“This is why we generally need to use fully-matched donors. In this clinical trial, for the first time in Australia, we used genetic engineering to make transplantation safer so we could use donors who were only partially matched.

“We take the immune cells from the partially matched donors, then we insert a gene into these cells which enables the cells to be killed off if they cause complications, such as graft-versus-host disease.”

Dr Tey said the genetic engineering was performed at QIMR Berghofer’s cell manufacturing facility, Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics and patients received the immune cells after their bone marrow transplant at the RBWH.

“What we found really amazing was that these immune cells can massively grow in number in the patients,” she said.

“We were able to show, using two independent molecular techniques that a single genetically modified immune cell, when challenged by a cancer, could split into millions and millions of cells within a few days.

“This immense capacity for rapid expansion was something that had not been shown before and really demonstrates the ‘power of one’: One cell, if it is the right cell, can grow rapidly and help control cancer or infection.”

Anthony Takken was 53 years old when he was diagnosed with high-risk acute myeloid leukaemia in 2014.

His only chance for a cure was a bone marrow transplant but he did not have a fully matched donor.

He has siblings but none of them was a full match because even brothers and sisters have only a one in four chance of being a full match.

Anthony became the first person to go on the clinical trial in January 2015.

Dr Tey and her team took immune cells from his brother, who was a partial match, and genetically modified them.

Mr Takken then underwent a bone marrow transplant from the same brother, and three weeks later had an infusion of the gene-modified cells.

“My cancer has now been in remission for 3.5 years. I have a few health challenges but I have returned to work, I’m travelling the world and the doctors say that the chances of the leukaemia coming back are very low,” Mr Takken said.

“At the time I was diagnosed, I was faced with leaving my 16 and 17 old sons to grow up without a father. Thanks to the gene therapy trial, I’ve now made it 3.5 years past my original expiry date!

“I’m grateful that Queensland is a significant hub in the world for this kind of research and treatment and I hope it can continue to be well funded because it gives people like me a chance of surviving and living and contributing to society.”

Dr Tey said although it was a small clinical trial, it was critical in demonstrating the ability of even a single cell, to control cancer and infection.

“Cancer immunotherapy is one of the most exciting developments in cancer treatment this decade. Bone marrow transplantation is actually the earliest form of cancer immunotherapy and continues to be a very effective form of treatment,” she said.

“Our trial gives hope to all the people who haven’t been able to find a suitable bone marrow donor in the past.

“Every day we are working hard to find the next line of treatment for people with leukaemia, people needing a transplant and treating complications from transplant.

“It’s exciting that this huge technological development is happening here in Queensland, at QIMR Berghofer and the RBWH. It is also exciting that this study paves the way for the use of other gene-engineering technology that has supercharged the cancer immunotherapy field in the past five to 10 years.

“We are now working on our next generation of clinical trials to use gene-modified cells to fight blood cancer and treat complications of bone marrow transplantation.”

Article sourced from QIMR Berghofer.

Fine-tuning cell death: new component of cell death machinery revealed

An important component of the microscopic machinery that drives cell death has been identified by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists.

Studying the ‘pro-death’ machinery that forces damaged, diseased or unwanted cells to die, the research team revealed a protein called VDAC2 was critical for the function of a key pro-death protein called Bax.

ACRF has provided $5.1M to WEHI in technology grants since 2001.

The team also showed VDAC2 contributed to the killing of certain cancer cells by anti-cancer agents. The research, published today in the journal Nature Communications, was led by PhD student Dr Hui-San Chin with Professor David Huang, Dr Mark van Delft and Associate Professor Grant Dewson.

Cell Death At a glance
  • The death of cells by a process called apoptosis is essential for the removal of unwanted, damaged or diseased cells, and is driven by a finely tuned protein ‘machine’.
  • The protein Bax is a key component of the cell death machinery, forming part of a complex that takes cells to a ‘point of no return’ in apoptotic death.
  • Our researchers discovered a protein called VDAC2 helps Bax to drive apoptosis, and may have a role in fine-tuning cancer cells’ response to anti-cancer agents.
Driving cancer cell death

A failure of the cell death machinery is a hallmark of cancer cells, and is linked to the resistance of cancer cells to anti-cancer treatments, said Professor Huang.

“Bax is important for helping anti-cancer agents kill cells – without Bax and its relative Bak, cancer cells cannot undergo apoptosis when treated with a range of anti-cancer therapies.

“Our research showed that VDAC2 is required for Bax to drive the response of cancer cells to conventional chemotherapy agents as well as the recently developed BH3-mimetics,” Professor Huang said.

Cell Death machinery

Apoptotic cell death is critical for the development and maintenance of our body, and faults in the protein machinery that drives apoptosis have been linked to a range of diseases. Faulty cell death proteins have been linked to both the development of cancer, as well as resistance of cancer cells to treatment.

A key protein in the cell death machinery is called Bax, Dr van Delft said. “Bax helps to take a cell to a ‘point of no return’ when apoptotic cell death is triggered, forming pores in mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell. This unleashes the final ‘executioner’ proteins that dismantle a cell.

“Understanding how Bax functions could lead to new therapeutics that either promote cell death – with applications for diseases such as cancer – or therapeutics that prevent cell death, which have the potential to save cells in conditions such as neurodegenerative disorders or stroke,” he said.

The team investigated how Bax and a related protein called Bak kill cells, knocking out the function of different genes using CRISPR technology, Associate Professor Dewson said.

“To our surprise we discovered a gene that was essential for the function of Bax but not Bak, despite these two proteins being functionally and structurally very similar.

“We were able to follow up on this research to show that the protein, called VDAC2, was a catalyst that helped Bax associate with mitochondria and form pores in their membranes, to kill the cell,” Associate Professor Dewson said. “Intriguingly VDAC2’s ‘day job’ is to maintain the function of the mitochondria, pumping metabolites in and out of the mitochondria.”

This article originally appeared on the WEHI website.

Cathy Shows her Support for Cancer Research

“My father died of cancer when I was 15 years old.

My mother’s grandmother died of Ovarian Cancer when my grandmother and her sister were young. They died of the same disease.

In the 1990’s, my mother, her youngest sister and one of my cousins all had breast cancer. In 2014, when my mother was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, she was genetically tested for the BRCA gene mutation which notably increases the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers.

When her results were positive, her seven children were then advised to have the same genetic test.

So far, six of us have been tested and I am the only one to get a negative result. My brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer before the genetic testing was done.

All my sisters have taken drastic steps to reduce their risks of getting these cancers – and I had to do something to help, somehow.

I decided to shave my head for ACRF. With the community of Echuca, Northern Victoria, rallying around me, I chopped my waist-length hair off to raise vital funds needed for cancer research.

To my surprise, my modest fundraising goal was quickly reached, and then some! Thank you for your generosity and support — it means a lot to me and the Echuca community. Together we can help ACRF create the world we want to see.”

– Cathy, ACRF Supporter

 

A bump in the road

“My name is Jennifer, I am 20 years old. 2018 was a big year for me. I finished my studies, graduated as a nurse, and two days after my final exam headed off overseas for 3 months to celebrate, tired but excited.

I was also diagnosed with cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to be exact.  

After two weeks of travel, a large lump appeared on my neck. My aunt, who I was visiting, took to me to their doctor as I was heading to Greece, Portugal, and Morocco the following week. I was feeling a little run down from all the studying, but I didn’t feel sick.

Waiting for appointments, travelling to hospital for tests, more waiting for results. I was anxious and toey. My mum, who is a nurse, rang from Australia and asked the doctor if she should travel to Ireland to be with me for the test results.

“I would,” he said.

D-day comes we we’re and off to Dublin to get what I thought would be the ‘all clear’ to resume my holiday, only to be told that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma … whatever that is. I guess my newly printed nursing certificate didn’t cover everything.

Up until then, I thought the waiting was the worst thing in the world, but I was wrong.

There’s a certain six-letter word that begins with ‘can’ and ends with ‘cer’ that is way worse. The mere mention of it stops people in their tracks and makes them reflect upon everything that’s gone before. Every possible outcome is contemplated … starting with the worst. But enough of that.

It was time to go home, start my treatment, and get rid of this “bump in the road” (or lump in my neck, to be more accurate).

So back to Melbourne we came, and back to Cabrini Hospital. I say back to Cabrini because one of my jobs while studying was working there as a unit receptionist. Oh, the irony, from a receptionist, to nurse, to a patient. Thankfully, my doctor was amazing and explained every step of treatment so clearly.

There was an upside to this drama – my mum and dad couldn’t say no to a new dog. We rescued a 10-week old kelpie cross, named Isla. But five days later, she came very unwell and didn’t recover.

The vet couldn’t work out what was wrong and to contemplate putting her down. It felt like the worst day ever. But, I was wrong. I phoned again in the morning to be told that she had died overnight. That was the worst day of the worst week. Someone told me that Isla was sent to me to transfer and take away my pain and sorrow. I like that.

I was determined to lose my hair on my own terms. The thought of losing it during treatment was traumatic.

So, I set up a fundraising page to raise money for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF). I asked my friends to come and share the “big day” with me. We had some drinks, some food and lots of laughs. It was very comforting to hear your friends say, “Wow Jen, you look good… no, you really do!”. Even I believed it in the end!

My brother Tom let me cut his hair off also in support and solidarity.

I am still undergoing chemotherapy and have some radiation to go through but Rob, my doctor, has given me some great news: the cancer is gone, and I can skip my last chemo cycle – woohoo!

I was lucky enough to also get a new kelpie puppy, named Gigi. Gigi keeps me busy – she’s a whole new world of trouble!

I want to thank everyone for their support, and best wishes.

Love, Jennifer”

Mutation identified as driver of resistance to breakthrough drug

Melbourne researchers have identified a gene mutation in the leukaemia cells of patients who become resistant to venetoclax, a discovery which can be used to identify those at-risk of relapse and help improve outcomes from this breakthrough blood cancer drug.

Venetoclax was developed based on discoveries made in Melbourne at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) around 30 years ago. The BCL2 inhibitor can induce long-term remissions in many patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) where other standard treatments are not effective.

Early support by ACRF to WEHI for the development of Venetoclax has been key to the drug’s development.  ACRF has provided three grants, totalling AUD 5.5 million towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

‘Late Breaking’ research into gene mutation

However in some patients on venetoclax for CLL their disease will progress and, until now, factors leading to this have remained unknown. The study – involving Peter Mac’s Dr Piers Blombery and collaborators at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Royal Melbourne Hospital and University of Melbourne – found a specific genetic mutation developing in the leukaemia cells of seven patients who relapsed while taking venetoclax.

Dr Blombery presented the results of this research in the prestigious “Late Breaking” session at the American Society of Haematology (ASH) annual scientific meeting, in San Diego, overnight.
“We conducted a genomic assessment of cancer cells from relapsing disease in patients and found a very specific single mutation in BCL2, the target of venetoclax, which significantly reduces the drug’s efficacy against the leukaemia in these patients,” Dr Blombery says.

“Importantly, this mutation could be detected in the bone marrow in some cases years before a patient’s disease would clinically progress, so this opens the door for testing to identify those at-risk so we can potentially intervene before overt relapse occurs.”

Key Clue to help develop combination treatments with Venetoclax

Dr Blombery said the study also pointed to other, as yet undiscovered, drivers of venetoclax resistance in patients and the genomics work would continue.
Professor Andrew Roberts, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said the research was only possible because of long-standing collaborations and fantastic teamwork between clinicians and laboratory scientists from many disciplines.

“Venetoclax remains a very effective treatment for CLL. This key clue should help us develop combination treatments with venetoclax that are even better for people with CLL,” Prof Roberts also says.

Supporters of this research include the Snowdome Foundation – which has a mission to accelerate new therapies for Australian blood cancer (myeloma, lymphoma and leukaemia) patients to help them live longer, better lives – and the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics based at Peter Mac; Vision Super, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (USA), the Leukaemia Foundation, NHMRC, Australian Cancer Research Foundation and Cancer Council Victoria.

This article and image originally appeared on the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre website.

 

Cutting off Melanoma’s Escape Routes

Stopping melanoma from spreading to other parts of the body might be as simple as cutting off the blood supply to the cancer, according to researchers.

Scientists from The University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute have discovered stem cells which form blood vessels in tumours, and have identified how to ‘switch the cells off’.

Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani said the study’s findings had enormous implications for cancer patients.

“Blood vessels are vital because tumours can’t grow without them – they feed the tumours and allow the cancer to spread,” Professor Khosrotehrani said.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has given $16.1M in funding to the Diamantina Insitute since 1999, including this year’s major grant related to the early detection of melanoma.

Blocking Blood Vessels Development may be Key

“If you get rid of these stem cells, then the blood vessels don’t form and the tumours don’t grow or spread to other locations.”
Professor Khosrotehrani said being able to block blood vessel development could be useful in treating recently diagnosed patients as it may help to prevent the cancer from spreading at an early stage.

“This idea has been around for a while, but it has proven difficult to achieve because blood vessel formation is a fundamental mechanism by which our body responds to injury,” he said.
“Directly targeting the stem cells that form these blood vessels is a new approach that could make the difference.”

The research team will test the ability of a compound to stop these stem cells from forming blood vessels, in a study supported by National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding.

Future Research into Melanoma

Researcher Dr Jatin Patel said melanoma’s ability to quickly spread from the skin to other parts of the body was what made it so deadly.

“We know that before tumours spread to places like lymph nodes or lungs, the body starts growing extra blood vessels in these areas – almost as if preparing special ‘niches’ for the cancer,” Dr Patel said.

“Our next study will focus on blocking the development of these niches.

“If the body doesn’t prepare them, then the cancer won’t grow there.”

This article originally appeared on the Diamantina Institute website.  Featured image: Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani

Charlie’s Bold Act to Outsmart Cancer

My name is Charlotte, but I usually go by Charlie. I’ve just recently turned 18 years old.

Throughout my life, I have witnessed people being destroyed by a loved one’s death due to cancer. I have had firsthand experience myself of losing my grandad and watching him wither away, even if he did do it with a smile. It only makes sense to me to do something to even just make the experience just that slightly less painful.

I knew that I had to do something loud to get people’s attention. You never know when a cancer discovery might be made, and I want to help in any way I can.

Because of this, I decided to shave my head.

When I was around seven, I experienced two major events that motivated me to take action to help outsmart cancer. The first was the death of my best friend’s mum, Anna, and my grandad. When you are so young, you don’t remember the exact details of each diagnosis, but what stays with you is the feeling.

My best friend’s mum, Anna, was just 40 years old when she passed away due to cancer. I remember playing at my friend’s home, running through her parent’s bedroom, where Anna would be most of the time. We were talking to her and, I remember this very clearly – she took her wig off because it was itching her.

As she had some hair growing back, I believed that she was getting better. Not long after, she passed away. My best friend Nefeli, her brother and especially her dad, handled the passing with immense strength. But there are times I remember us crying together, messy cries.

The other event was my grandad, he died a few months before Anna. It was a very different experience. He died very suddenly.

I remember him leaning over the couch to scare me whilst I was watching TV, and as he made me jump, I grabbed onto arm. He didn’t shout but made more of a loud sound that I never heard him make before – I thought he had only hurt his back.

Seven weeks later he passed away from an aggressive form of cancer.

The last time I saw him he was in his hospital bed, looking very skinny and dehydrated, but was still smiling and cracking jokes.

One night in the hospital he was at, I went outside in the corridor and shushed a doctor because “my grandad is trying to sleep!” the next day, I heard that made him giggle.

A few days later he left the world. It affected us very heavily, and everyone that knew him. My grandma moved in with me and my mum, and we had some very sad, but in a weird way, lovely moments together crying.

Shaving my head for cancer research was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It gave me a true sense of purpose by helping other people. ACRF were so supportive throughout, they kept in touch and offered different ways to fundraise.

I felt like I was actually doing something that mattered and was a part of making a better future for everyone. That feeling of satisfaction is hard to find anywhere else.

A legacy of Cancer Research in Joan’s Honour

After 47 years of marriage, Reg Kelsey’s wife Joan passed from breast cancer. Reg chose to honour Kelsey’s life through including a gift in his Will to the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. He encourages others to do the same to help avoid what Joan went through.

Reg was a 23-year-old ambitious young man and rode motorbikes. Joan was a 21-year-old from a good Adelaide family. He spotted her while riding past her house one-day.
“She was standing out front and our eyes locked. Each day thereafter, I smiled at her.

Several months of ‘drive-by-smiling’, Reg asked her out.

He was pleasantly surprised to learn Joan shared his love of motorbikes!

“Not only did she like motorbikes, but she was also an accomplished piano player, was smart and vivacious. I felt very lucky indeed!

As Reg worked his way up the ladder in the motor-industry, he was on the road a lot. Without a permanent address of his own, he boarded with Joan’s parents. On weekends they rode motorbikes.
After three years of courting, aged 23 & 27 years, Reg and Joan married.

“We were very well suited. You don’t have 47 years of marriage unless you’re well matched.”

Joan and Reg had a daughter, then Joan returned to the workforce.

“Joan was a fast learner and quickly gained work as a doctor’s receptionist. We became friends and socialised with the doctor and his wife. This made it easier when the doctor gave Joan the news she had breast cancer. Joan was just 38-years-old. Our daughter was 14.
“When Joan went for her operation, the doctor called me mid-surgery to confirm she needed a mastectomy. I just said, “do what you need to do, Doc.”

Despite the surgery, the cancer eventually returned.

“It spread to the kidneys and finally the spine. After 3 months in hospital, we discussed palliative care and I asked Joan what she wanted. She said she wanted to go home.”

“I fulfilled her wish but she only lasted 3weeks. She passed in our home aged 70yrs. The saddest part is that we didn’t get to enjoy retirement. Joan was just too sick.”

Reg remains thankful for the time they had.

“You can only play the hand you are dealt. I still feel pretty lucky she said yes! After he retired, Reg drew up his Will, and decided to include a gift to ACRF.

A bequest to research is the best way I can think of to help end cancer. “

New Venetoclax combination brings breast cancer hope

Combining two cancer drugs has seen a potential breakthrough for women with metastatic breast cancer.

In a world first, breast cancer researchers at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, successfully combined a drug that has shown promise in the treatment of chronic leukaemia with therapy used to treat breast cancer.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s medical oncologist, Professor Geoff Lindeman, principal investigator of the study, said the combination of the two drugs has given researchers and patients a boost in tackling metastatic breast cancer. Professor Lindeman is also a researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

“The primary aim of the study was to determine the safety and tolerability of venetoclax in combination with tamoxifen,” Professor Lindeman said.

ACRF has awarded The Royal Melbourne Hospital with $1M in grants, and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre $7M since 2003, for cutting-edge cancer research equipment and technology.

“We tested this combination on the basis of our laboratory findings at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Venetoclax is a drug that switches off BCL-2, a protein that helps keep cancer cells alive. Our findings suggested that adding venetoclax to conventional hormone therapy might boost responses.”

“Although the study was aimed at determining safety and finding the right dose, we found that 75% of the women involved in the study experienced an overall improvement or derived clinical benefit.”

“This result has provided a basis for further studies with venetoclax, where the hope would be to produce deeper and more durable responses for women affected by breast cancer.”

Professor Lindeman added this was the first time Venetoclax has been used on solid tumours. “Venetoclax is not currently approved in breast cancer and further studies will be required to determine its effectiveness,” Professor Lindeman said.

Venetoclax was developed based on a landmark discovery made in Melbourne during the late 1980s by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists, that the BCL-2 promoted cancer cell survival.

“There were 42 women enrolled in the study, which was conducted at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre over the last three years.

“The drug was well tolerated, and the majority received the maximum dose with minimal side effects. We have now established a new benchmark dose for future studies.
“We are excited by the findings and what it could mean for patients with incurable hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.”

The research, published today in the journal Cancer Discovery, was supported by AbbVie and Roche/Genentech, the National Health and Medical Research Council, Victorian State Government through the Victorian Cancer Agency and Operational Infrastructure Support Program, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Australian Cancer Research Foundation, The Qualtrough Cancer Research Fund and Joan Marshall Breast Cancer Research Fund.

This article originally appeared on the Royal Melbourne Hospital Website.

$16.4 M to accelerate leading cancer research in Australia

ACRF 2018 Grant News

SYDNEY, NSW – The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) has announced this evening $16.4 million in four technology grants to initiate and accelerate further ground-breaking cancer research in Australia.

“Every year ACRF encourages the Australian cancer research community to propose projects that are innovative and have great potential to make a significant impact on cancer prevention, detection and treatment,” Professor Brown said.

A flagship diagnostic centre to improve the early detection of melanoma will be established with a major $9.9 million grant. The ACRF Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis is set to revolutionise the early detection of melanoma.

“The centre will advance the early detection of melanoma, Australia’s ‘national cancer’, and is a world first,” Professor Brown said.

This project will implement cutting-edge imaging technology in combination with a multi-nodal telemedicine network across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and significantly enhance the capability of clinicians and researchers to detect and understand melanoma.

The 3D imaging system takes a total body image in m­­­­illiseconds, giving dermatologists the ability to detect skin cancers in a patient even from the other side of the country. A telemedicine network will significantly benefit rural and remote communities.

Approximately 100 000 individual scans from high risk groups will be completed in the first three years. Australians experience 12 times the global incidence of melanoma. It is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 39.

Three other grants were awarded by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation for 2018.

The recipients include:

  • ACRF Facility for Innovative Drug Discovery – $2 million to develop revolutionary drug discovery technology for cancers with no approved therapy available or requiring improved treatments. Hosted at Bio21 Molecular Science and Technology Institute (VIC).
  • ACRF Centre for Integrated Cancer Systems Biology – $2.5 million for technology to provide new personalised approaches to interrogate cancer biology. This will significantly enhance the translation of cancer research from the laboratory to the patient. Hosted at South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute (SA).
  • ACRF Centre for Compound Management and Logistics – $2 million to establish a transformative acoustic compound management platform with integrated software to enable Australian cancer researchers to access the most advanced drug combinations used in cancer clinical trials. Hosted at compounds Australia, Griffith University (QLD).

“All grant applications are critically evaluated by a team of leading international cancer scientists and clinicians who recommend the projects that will make major impact nationally and globally to the ACRF board,” Professor Brown concluded.

Support for personnel to be involved in the projects has been secured via the NSW government through Cancer Institute NSW ($300,000 over 3 years for the ACRF Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis) and Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation ($333,000 over 3 years for the ACRF Facility for Innovative Drug Discovery).

The grants were announced at a reception hosted by the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) and Lady Cosgrove, tonight at Admiralty House in Sydney.

Carol Shaves her Head in Honour of Friend

We all know someone who has been affected by cancer, and each person’s journey is unique.

In honour of my friend Briohne, who did not survive breast cancer, and the many other courageous people who are affected by this disease, I decided to raise funds for the ACRF through a head shave.  My own mother died of cancer 17 years ago and in the years since her death, there have been many advances in cancer therapies owing to research funded by organisations such as ACRF.

Shaving your head is definitely bold – thankfully it’s a great way to encourage donations because it never fails to get noticed! I am extremely proud to have nearly achieved my fundraising goal of $1,000  in honour of my friend and her favourite charity. Plus,  I like my new look.

It was from Briohne that I first learned about ACRF.  Whilst undergoing cancer treatment, she co-created the Silk Rags Project. The project is a stage performance and musical about four women and how they journey through their respective lives, focusing on a recent cancer diagnosis. Silk Rags is about not letting your struggle become your identity, a message that will resonate with so many. Every performance raises funds for cancer research and is a beautiful legacy to her.

Looking forward, I want to continue supporting the ACRF as they can help so many people who are experiencing the effects of cancer.

Caring for the Caregiver

ACRF is pleased to continue a connection with CancerAid – the app which assists cancer patients and their caregivers. One of these caregivers is Lisa, whose father was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer. She shares her heartbreaking story below.

“I wasn’t prepared for the impact of my father’s cancer. The story of my father’s cancer is now our family story. Our story begins when my father was diagnosed with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer.

It is a story I continue to tell, so that other families have the knowledge and the power to help each other.

Our story is a seven-year journey of my father living with chronic pain, losing his ability to eat and drink, spending the last four years of his life surviving solely on a peg tube with severe nerve
damage.

Nerve damage so severe that his entire body would twitch and nothing could help him, nothing could alleviate his pain.

Nerve damage so severe I would walk into my parent’s home and hear my father screaming in pain rendering us all helpless. Nerve damage so severe that my father was housebound the last two years of his life, missing countless family moments.

My mother was my father’s primary caregiver throughout his entire illness, and she did this with unconditional love, dignity and grace. If love could have saved my father he would be here right now. Even as I am writing this, I am not sure how my mother was my father’s sole caregiver for so long.

My mother is the definition of strength and courage while surrounded by heartbreak and human suffering. But caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient, loving people.

When an oxygen mask descends in front of you on an aeroplane, the first rule is to put your own mask on prior to assisting anyone else.

Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others and that rule also applies to caregiving. The life of a caregiver is not easy, but when your needs are taken care of, the person you are caring for will benefit as well. Below are some tips on taking care of YOU while caregiving for a loved one.”

Lisa offers the following advice to caregivers going through a similar experience to hers:

1. Set realistic goals – prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. Start saying no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
2. Be honest with yourself. Ask ‘am I capable of taking care of my loved one all by myself? Do I need to hire outside help or consider assisted living?’
3. Get connected – Find out about caregiving resources in your community. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations.
4. Set personal health goals – Including goals to establish a good sleep routine. Find time to be physically active, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.
5. See your doctor – Get all recommended vaccinations and screenings. Make it a priority to see your GP. Make sure to inform your doctor that you are a caregiver.

The CancerAid app is available for free to download and use on Android and Apple devices.
If you, or someone close to you, are diagnosed with cancer and you wish to use the app, Click Here

Dreamlab delivers a new way of making sense of cancer

Research by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research has revealed a new way to group cancers based on their DNA ‘signatures’.

This discovery, among others, is based on data analysed through Project Decode on the DreamLab app, which was fuelled by the growing phenomenon of citizen science.

The findings, posted on BioRxiv (a preprint server) are the product of analyses of 3750 genomes spanning eight different cancer types.

Researchers have found a new way to ‘cluster’ cancers together, grouping individual cancers in a way that could indicate the best treatment for each one.
While the findings are preliminary, it is hoped that this new way of classifying cancers could bring the medical world a step closer to realising the potential of personalised medicine – providing treatment and monitoring that’s targeted to each individual patient.

DreamLab, an innovation created by Garvan and The Vodafone Foundation in Australia, works by harnessing the idle processing power of users’ smartphones to solve complex cancer problems and send the results back to Garvan for analysis. Over 300,000 people have downloaded DreamLab and joined the ‘citizen science’ movement.

Dr Mark Pinese, Senior Research Officer at Garvan, is encouraged by what these initial findings could mean for future cancer treatment.

“By using the power of DreamLab to crunch genomic data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), our team of researchers uncovered a new way of looking at mutations in cancer,” said Dr Pinese. “This is an interesting finding as in the clinic it could help us determine which type of cancer a patient has, and the best treatment for that cancer. This is a key goal of personalised medicine.”

 From body parts to DNA signatures

Traditionally, people think of cancer as being specific to a body part – such as lung cancer or breast cancer. However, researchers now know that it is predominantly the DNA changes in an individual’s cancer, not its tissue of origin, which sheds light on how to best treat and manage it.

Scientists are still in the early stages of understanding exactly how to read a cancer’s DNA for clues as to how best to treat it, and how aggressive it is. So far, researchers have mostly looked for DNA changes in one or a few genes at a time– but the new DreamLab-enabled research takes a more sophisticated approach, looking instead for changes in groups of 7-20 genes.

The DNA-protein connection: uncovering hidden ‘cliques’ 

Genes inside people’s cells code for proteins, and proteins carry out the work of the cell – so gene changes can affect how proteins work. Importantly, proteins are constantly interacting with one another as they carry out the cell’s work.

To achieve this, the researchers used a novel technique, called EPICC (Experimental Protein Interaction Clustering of Cancer), to cluster cancer patients based on DNA mutation profile, leveraging knowledge of protein-protein interactions to reduce noise and amplify biological signal.

The researchers wanted to know whether groups of interacting proteins – which they call ‘cliques’ – might hold the key to how best to treat cancers. They reasoned that the cancers with changes in the same clique of proteins would be controlled in similar ways, and might therefore respond similarly to treatments.

The Garvan team matched the gene changes in 3750 cancers with the corresponding protein changes and interactions across a massive network of about 20,000 proteins.  This revealed 141 different clusters, which were agnostic of the cancer’s tissue of origin.

Dr Catherine Vacher, is the co-first author on the paper.

“We used an algorithm that can detect communities in social networks to identify groups of proteins that interact with one another – which we call ‘cliques’ – that were altered in the cancers,” Dr Vacher said. “We see a future where one day a genomic test could classify a patient’s cancer and give their oncologist insight into the best treatments for that patient.”

 Citizen science doubling the speed of research

Through the assistance of The Vodafone Foundation’s DreamLab app, Garvan was able to harness the idle processing power of thousands of smartphones across Australia, and more recently in New Zealand and the UK, to halve the time it would have otherwise taken to crunch the data in Project Decode.

“With one in two Australians set to be touched by cancer directly at some stage in their life, we see Garvan’s research as vital to improving the health of the nation,” said Megan Retka-Tidd, Head of The Vodafone Foundation. “Garvan’s initial findings are truly exciting and point to the power of handheld technology, combined with leading scientists, to help speed up cancer research. Collectively, DreamLab users donated sixty million hours to Project Decode to speed up this research.”

Dr Swetansu Pattnaik, is the co-first author and bioinformatician at Garvan.

“Citizen Science, such as the contribution of thousands of people to DreamLab, is truly astounding,” Dr Pattnaik said. “While these are early findings, we look forward to the global medical community poring over, critiquing and adding to them.

“We are already working to translate this clustering approach into clinical practice in the future.”

 Project Demystify launches on DreamLab

Coinciding with the release of the initial Project Decode findings, the next research project – Project Demystify has launched on DreamLab.

Project Demystify seeks to understand, or connect the dots, between physical human traits – hair colour, height, blood pressure, and, at times, symptoms of disease – and their genetic basis.

To achieve this, existing data on individuals’ traits (which will be sourced from clinical information and wearable devices such as fitness wristbands) will be correlated with individuals’ genetic information.

However, to do this correlation is not simple. Complex calculations are required to determine correlations between different traits. These calculations need huge amounts of computing power, and it is these calculations that will be computed via Project Demystify on the DreamLab app.

People are encouraged to download DreamLab from the App Store and Google Play Store.

The DreamLab app was built by Transpire, with Amazon Web Services Australia generously powering the DreamLab server.

– ends –

This release originally appeared on the Garvan Institute’s website.

Julie Organises Golf Day Fundraiser

We often read about the importance of listening to our body and to not neglect having health checks.  It is sound advice and something which I ignored until it was nearly too late.

In 2017, I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer and my doctor said a delay of another month would have meant less than a year to live. I’m happy to report that surgery was successful, and I have now been in remission for just over a year.

Experiencing first-hand the impact of cancer, I decided to get involved in raising awareness about bowel cancer and fundraising. I am hooked on golf and know the game is a great way to reach out to other people so a Ladies Golf Day was organised for September at the Glades Golf Course, Gold Coast.  Several other enthusiastic golfers joined me and the day was a huge success.  $4,000 in donations was collected for ACRF.  Plans are also confirmed for another golf fundraising event in December.

I am confident that scientific research will someday result in an enduring end to cancer.  In the meantime, please learn from me – don’t put off taking advantage of cancer checks!

Saigon Boys Turn Up the Music for ACRF

I’m Duc, the band leader and manager of the Saigon Boys Band, a Vietnamese pop group established in 2015. We perform mostly at local clubs in south-western Sydney during the weekends.

I have family members and friends who’ve passed away from cancer and the other band members all know of someone who has been affected by cancer.  Because of this, we believe the most important thing is to find a medication or vaccine that will ensure a cancer-free future for everyone.  We wanted to help raise money for more cancer research, and we felt the best way for us to do this was putting on a concert.

As a group that’s been performing for a few years, hosting a charity event wasn’t too difficult for us to organise.  We decided on a date in September, the location, and then posted details of the performance on Facebook.  We set up in Freedom Plaza – choosing an outdoor pedestrian mall in Cabramatta’s CBD so weekend shoppers could take a break, sit and listen to our music, enjoy the good weather and learn about ACRF.  Our stage was decorated with ACRF balloons and we had volunteers placed with donation boxes.  There was a great turnout of people on the day, and we were very happy that so many in the community made contributions. The event was a great success.

I would encourage others to fundraise.  Supporting ACRF and their cancer research work is the best way to stop more people dying every day of cancer.

 

Share your story

Chris to run 12 marathons in 12 days for ACRF

Chris Glacken’s dedication to supporting ACRF is inspiring. He is an incredibly selfless individual and is committed to raising $100,000 for cancer research. We could not be more appreciative. His most recent event, the Alanis 12, will see him run 12 marathons in 12 days.

“Both my parents have lost their battle with cancer within the last two years. They were both the same age, diagnosed with the same stage of cancer. Mum passed away only a few months ago in May this year.

I made a promise to my father a few days before his passing that I would continue the battle against cancer. Many other friends, including my sister and brother in law, have also been touched by cancer this year.­­

It was cruel to witness something so heartbreaking and feel so helpless.

I was inspired to create the Alanis 12 as the first Australian event that will challenge anyone who would like to have a crack at completing all 12 marathons. I named the event after my guardian angel, Alanis Morissette, whose music I listen to every time I run.

When I stand at the starting line of my events and brief the participants, it always amazes me to see how many put their hand up when asked if they have been affected by cancer in some way. I believe that if you give people a purpose, they will help – and those who run with me prove this.

It’s tough running so far and so often but nothing compared to what others are suffering through cancer.­

We are running for those who can’t.”

 

Share your story

Jola Adventures in the Arctic for Cancer Research

“My name is Jola, and I have a huge taste for adventure. In the past, this has led me to climb mountains and cycle extreme distances, but to fundraise for ACRF I decided on something a little different: hiking in sub-arctic conditions through Iceland, Norway and Greenland.

Last year, I lost a beautiful friend Michelle to cancer. After her passing, I had one enduring thought that I could not shake: that I could be next.

How is it possible to beat this terrible disease that so many people are affected by? When you lose so many people to this terrible disease, cancer takes on a personal quality. As a scientist, what made sense to me was focusing on raising money for cancer research, with the dream that one day a world without cancer would be possible.

This was the decision that lead me to my life-changing arctic adventure.

Did I mention that I do not like the cold at all, that I’m scared of heights, and that I’ve never even walked with crampons before? Sub-arctic temperatures are no joke – with conditions averaging around -6 degrees Celsius, the icy winds relentlessly beat at you, and your hands and toes start to freeze. It takes so much energy just to function, not to mention what it takes to push yourself physically and mentally through challenges.

But, with my goal in mind, I hiked land and glaciers, scrambling along the uneven frozen terrain. I tried my hand (literally) at ice climbing, scaling frozen glaciers at 700m altitude. I kayaked in between icebergs and even snorkelled through freezing, dark water. Although challenging doesn’t even begin to cover how this felt, in the end, I pushed myself completely out of my comfort zone. It was amazing.

Despite all the physical and emotional challenges that were brought before me, I carried with me a sense of drive that was seeded in all those who were trusting me to complete this trip. I was proud to feel like what I was doing was more important than the immediate challenges before me – it was something important for everyone. And in the end, I felt like a superhero.

 ACRF has one singular goal: To outsmart cancer. By providing the brightest minds in Australia the tools they need to make ground-breaking research discoveries, we believe this is possible. Please, donate today to support people like Jola and their immense contribution to moving forward into a cancer-free world.

Some breast cancers have a pause button

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. It claims the lives of eight women every single day.

Tumours that are contained to the breast are usually treatable. Five-year survival rates have risen to an impressive 90% over recent years. But for those diagnosed with aggressive types of breast cancer, there are fewer treatment options and still much that we don’t know.

It’s the spread of breast cancer — or metastasis — that makes it deadly.  When cancerous cells from the tumour break away and move to other parts of the body, treatment becomes much more difficult and less effective.

Preventing metastasis

A study from Garvan Institute and US researchers has shed new light on the harmful spread of breast tumours. It provides insight into new approaches we might use to stop their growth and spread.

ACRF has provided three grants to Garvan since 2003 for cancer research, totalling $6.1M.

When cancer cells break away from the primary tumour, they travel elsewhere and eventually grow into robust secondary tumours.

The new research has uncovered a natural process: the primary tumour can signal the immune system to follow the breakaway cells and ‘freeze’ them. In this paused state, the cells can’t grow effectively — thereby stopping secondary tumour growth in its tracks.

Although this research was done on mice, there are indications the same process may also happen in people.

Tumour signalling may lead to new cancer treatments

We still don’t know why some tumours pause their own spread; but we know it’s a promising avenue for future treatments.

“We want to understand exactly what the tumour is releasing to activate this immune response, and how immune cells are targeting the secondary sites,” concludes Dr Christine Chaffer who co-led the research. “In principle, all of these steps present therapeutic opportunities that could be used to stop a cancer from developing any further.”

If we can exploit this naturally occurring signalling process in breast cancer, we may eventually find the controls that pause other types of cancer as well. These findings suggest exciting new treatment approaches and avenues for further research.

Broadly considered, these findings suggest a future where people can live with cancers they might otherwise die from.

This article originally appeared on the Garvan Institute website.

Study Finds Spider Peptide Slows Melanoma Growth

An international study has discovered that a compound extracted from the Australian funnel-web spider is highly effective at killing melanoma cells, as well as cells taken from facial tumours on Tasmanian devils.

It is believed to be the first time the spider-derived peptide has been found to have anti-cancer properties in melanoma and Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) cells. The findings mean the compound could potentially become the basis for a new treatment for DFTD and melanoma in future.

The study was led by QIMR Berghofer researchers Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou and Dr Manuel A. Fernandez-Rojo, along with collaborators from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland.

ACRF has awarded QIMR Berghofer $8.4 million in grants since 2002 for cancer research.

‘Very promising’ early results

The researchers tested the peptide – which is very similar to the known Gomesin peptide from the Brazilian spider Acanthoscurria gomesiana – in a series of laboratory experiments.
Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou, who led the study, said the early results were very promising.

“We decided to test this spider compound because it was very similar in chemical composition to a compound from a Brazilian spider, which was already known to have anti-cancer properties although it had never been tested in devil facial tumour cells,” Dr Ikonomopoulou said.

“In our laboratory experiments, we found that the Australian funnel-web spider peptide was better at killing melanoma cancer cells and stopping them from spreading than the Brazilian spider peptide. Additionally, the Australian spider peptide did not have a toxic effect on healthy skin cells.

“When we tested the Australian spider peptide on human melanoma cells in the laboratory, it killed the majority of them. We also found the peptide slowed the growth of melanomas in mice.”
Dr Ikonomopoulou and Dr Fernandez-Rojo also tested the compound on cells taken from facial tumours on Tasmanian devils.

“Similar to the effect in melanoma cells, we found that the Australian spider peptide killed the DFTD cells, but didn’t affect the healthy cells as much,” she said.

“We also experimented with different versions of the compound to try to find which one would be best at killing the DFTD cells,” she said.

“When we altered two particular amino acids in the peptide chain, the compound became even better at destroying the DFTD cells”.

“This research is still at a very early stage, but these results are very promising. There are many years of work ahead, but we hope that this compound could in the future be developed into a new treatment for melanoma and DFTD.

“These findings prompt us to continue investigating the potential of bioactive compounds derived from venom to treat melanoma, liver diseases, obesity and metabolism, as well as against the Tasmanian devil tumours in collaboration with the biopharmaceutical industry.”

Dr Ikonomopoulou and Dr Fernandez-Rojo are now based at the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies, IMDEA-Food.

The findings have been published recently in two separate studies in the journals Scientific Reports and Cell Death Discovery.

This article originally appeared on the QIMR Berghofer website.

Discovery paves way for improved ovarian cancer care

Melbourne scientists have revealed a better way to identify which patients should respond to powerful ovarian cancer drugs called PARP inhibitors (PARPi), resolving an important question in ovarian cancer care about why some patients respond to the drugs, while others do not.

The findings add to a vital ‘checklist’ that helps match ovarian cancer patients with the right therapy for their cancer. Being able to offer targeted treatment is crucial for patient survival rates which have seen little improvement over the past 30 years.

The study, published in Nature Communications, was led by Professor Clare Scott, Dr Olga Kondrashova, Dr Matthew Wakefield and Dr Monique Topp from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute; in collaboration with Associate Professor Alexander Dobrovic from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and LaTrobe University ­­­School of Medicine.

ACRF has provided $5.5 million in grants to fund research to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute since 2001.

At a glance

A new ovarian cancer study could help to better match patients with the appropriate therapy for their cancer.

The research identified subtle but important epigenetic differences among ovarian cancer patients that could influence their response to treatment.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for treating ovarian cancer so being able to offer more personalised care is crucial for patient survival rates which have seen little improvement over 30 years.

Subtle yet significant differences

Professor Scott said it was well documented that PARPi could only work when the cancer’s DNA repair process wasn’t functioning as it should.

“For the past two decades, it was thought that ovarian cancer patients whose cancer’s BRCA1 genes are ‘silenced’ – or methylated – had faulty DNA repair and therefore were good candidates for PARPi treatment. Yet the puzzling thing was we were unable to predict the patients for whom the drugs would work,” she said.

Dr Kondrashova said the ‘Eureka moment’ came when the researchers discovered epigenetic differences in some BRCA1 methylated cancers. These subtle yet significant differences explained why some patients would respond to the drug, while others would not.

“It was suddenly clear that all patients in the group could not be treated the same way. We discovered that some of the patients had what could be described as ‘incomplete’ BRCA1 methylation where not every gene copy was ‘switched off’.

“As it turns out, incomplete methylation isn’t enough to cause faulty DNA repair in cancer cells which explains why PARPi isn’t going to be effective.

“At the same time, those in the group who had ‘complete’ BRCA1 methylation in their cancer were responsive to PARPi confirming to us that the treatment should not be discounted,” Dr Kondrashova said.

‘Snap shots’ at key points

Professor Scott said the findings were a result of methodologies developed by Associate Professor Dobrovic at the Olivia Newwton-John Cancer Resarch Institute that could accurately determine the degree of BRCA1 methylation, as well as quality data sets and sophisticated laboratory models called patient derived xenografts (PDX models).

“PDX models are powerful because they mimic the complexity of human tumours at key stages as the cancer progresses. Our models are developed with cancerous tissue donated by patients from the Royal Women’s Hospital, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Peter Mac at the time of their cancer diagnosis, or prior to and after treatment with PARPi.

“Like ‘snap shots’ in time, PDX models allow us to accurately track how each patient’s cancer is changing or responding to treatment. The success of this approach shows that a long-term, detailed analysis is invaluable for providing better patient care.”

No ‘one size fits all’

Professor Scott said understanding the various reasons for PARPi resistance was an invaluable approach for developing better, more personalised patient care.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for ovarian cancer care. We need to keep making these strides in understanding so we can better match patients with the right treatment for their cancer,” she said.

The research was conducted in affiliation with the University of Melbourne and was funded by the Cancer Council Victoria Sir Edward Dunlop Research Fellowship, the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation, the Victorian Cancer Agency, Cancer Australia, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Clinical trials information

Professor Scott’s laboratory is currently involved in studies linked to two clinical trials on PARP inhibitors – the EMBRACE study and the SOLACE 2 study. Find out more about these trials on the Cancer Council Victoria website and at the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry.

This article originally appeared on the WEHI website.

Image courtesy of WEHI. Research led by (L-R) Dr Olga Kondrashova and Professor Clare Scott is helping to match ovarian cancer patients with the right treatment for their cancer.

ACRF connects with CancerAid: The app that assists cancer patients and their caregivers

Anxiety and fear. From the very first moment after a cancer diagnosis, through treatment and beyond, these are some highly experienced emotional responses recorded by people living with cancer.

Initially, there is often little time to process the shock and suddenness of a diagnosis, especially whilst having to make highly stressful decisions about which course of treatment to take.
In the months following the initial diagnosis, most patients find it difficult to absorb and retain information with so much going on.

The CancerAid app was designed to alleviate anxiety and fear. Developed and launched after a comprehensive amount of research, the app’s features are based on expert advice and patient interviews.

Two oncologists listened to patients expressing these emotions whilst working in a cancer centre in Sydney. They wanted to find a way to empower their patients, and allow them autonomy and control over their care.

The free app CancerAid offers access to personalised, medically reliable information about cancer, treatments and what to expect. Patients can track and share symptoms, feelings and appointments, nominate friends and family for support, access reliable cancer research updates and connect with a community of fellow patients and caregivers. This is all done in the patient’s own time, and on their terms.

The app empowers patients to keep loved ones and doctors up to date with their care needs more efficiently, so that their treatment can be done in the most effective way possible.

The app is continuously developed by healthcare professionals and an in-house team of experienced developers and designers who invite patients to give them feedback on how the app can improve.

ACRF and CancerAid

ACRF is pleased to connect with CancerAid to support our community and those affected by cancer.

CancerAid has assisted more than 20 000 patients with managing their cancer diagnosis.

This immense recognition has led to the app being ranked number one in the US, UK and Australian app store, and being given accolades by Steve Wozniak of Apple, and Sir Richard Branson. CancerAid has also won one of the largest deals in Shark Tank History.

Benefits of the app

Today, it is highly evident that tracking symptoms and activities can result in health benefits. Recent research reveals that cancer patients who track symptoms contribute to improved personal outcomes.

A study recently presented at ASCO, the world’s largest cancer conference, revealed that people with cancer who record their symptoms during treatment and share them with their doctors, enjoy a better quality of life, are less likely to be admitted to hospital, and most remarkably, have a better chance of survival. Basch at al (2017).

It’s no surprise to the CancerAid team that the most used feature is the in-app community where patients and caregivers are encouraged to share their stories to support others.

Isolation is a common feeling amongst patients. In the in-app community, CancerAid allows individuals to connect with others going through similar experiences. It’s no surprise to the CancerAid team that this is the most used feature. The community and symptom manager has been received as a comforting resource where patients and caregivers can express their experience with symptoms, treatments and changes to their lives.

The CancerAid app is available for free to download and use on Android and Apple devices.
If you, or someone close to you, are diagnosed with cancer and you wish to use the app, Click Here

References:

Basch at al (2017). Overall Survival Results of a Trial Assessing Patient-Reported Outcomes for Symptom Monitoring During Routine Cancer Treatment. JAMA, 318(2), p.197.

Convert Points into Life Saving Donations

You can make a difference to people and the planet with your credit card. NAB’s NAB Rewards program means at the click of a button, you can transfer your points to a donation and contribute to our important work. Launched in 2017, NAB Rewards credit card customers can convert their points into donations.

NAB is working with community investment specialist, Good2Give, to support this initiative and ensure the efficient and secure transfer of funds to charities.

Login to the NAB Rewards Store via internet banking or the NAB App to make your donation today – remember, every little bit counts.

Last year, your donations helped fund:

  • New imaging technology which will helps develop new therapies by examining tumors.
  • Equipment that will help build in-depth knowledge of all cell types that make up a tumour, and how cancer cells evolve, leading to improved treatments.
  • Developing manufacturing and monitoring facilities which will support new immunotherapy clinical trials.
  • Building a new facility which supports research into improving long-term outcomes of cancer patients and survivors.

 

Learn More Here

To My Dearest Mum – In honour of women’s cancer month

A mother is someone very special. She ia a friend, a teacher, a protector and many other things in the eyes of her children and grandchildren. In October, we honour all the mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters and other women who have been taken away by cancer too soon.

Below you’ll find Michael’s story about the effect her cancer diagnosis and passing away has had upon his family.

 

What I miss most about you Mum

You always began a phone call by saying “Hi love, I was just thinking of you.” You were always thinking of others and, as I sit here writing this letter, I am waiting for your daily call to ask how your granddaughters and I are doing.

Each morning, I still find myself expecting the phone to ring. I wish I could hear your voice, and say hello. I really miss you Mum, and your comforting way of telling me that everything would be okay.

I won’t lie, some days are a lot harder than others. But, I want to tell you that whilst things here are really tough for everyone at the moment, the endless love you had for us gives us the strength to keep moving on exactly how you wanted us to. We are doing our best to make you proud.

There are some darker moments when it feels like the void that you have left in our lives seems overwhelming. On other days it feels like it has all just been a dream, and that I will come to visit you with the girls soon.

My favourite day of the week was always the day when I came to see you and Dad. You always greeted me with huge hugs and kisses.

I am imagining Olivia and Mia begging you to make your famous ravioli. You would always cook whatever the girls wanted for lunch or dinner when they were visiting, always generous with your secret ingredient of love.

And after we all had sat down together to eat, you would sneak them a treat when I wasn’t looking – much to their delight. I am so thankful they have those special memories in the kitchen with their grandmother.

You were always so passionate about looking after others, and your legendary cooking and hospitality displayed this best. This was your space, where you could be creative and nourish those you loved.

The way you cared for others exceeded levels of what I thought was possible.

You were selfless beyond belief, and always put our needs before your own. I am truly grateful that you were such a loving and dedicated mother to me and Steven, and a committed wife to Dad – we could not have wished for anything more.

Back in March 2015, when we received the news about your illness, you didn’t flinch. Instead, you packed up your stuff, left the hospital and carried on with business as usual. Your only concern upon your diagnosis of an inoperable stage IV lung cancer was for Dad, my brother, me, and my girls.

Our entire family could not have been more shocked – we had no explanation for this. You never smoked and were always so healthy. At 63 years old, you were supposed to be enjoying a well-earned break during retirement, not facing this awful disease.

You did whatever you could, immediately taking on daily chemotherapy in tablet form until the cancer overpowered the treatment. In February 2016, we were so thankful that you had qualified to take part in a clinical trial, and we celebrated as your condition improved and you carried on with your life.

At times it was impossible to even believe you were so sick with incurable cancer, but we were never sure of what the future held for you Mum.

I still sit here wondering why and how this happened, and I daydream about what might have been in store for us as a family. But the reality is that we are still learning to navigate this surreal new world without you.

Steven continues to thrive. You had no doubts about that, he was always the strongest. He got that from you Mum.

We are keeping our promise to you and looking out for Dad, and he is doing the same for us and the girls. You would be proud to know he has been brilliant looking after the kids with me and picking them up from school. He has even been making their dinner – I am not joking!

He is doing his best Mum, but I know that he is truly heartbroken and sad without you here. I have never seen anyone miss someone this much. You two had such a magical, unbreakable bond.

Your commitment to him in the 50 years you shared was absolutely unwavering, as his was to you. I loved that you always did things together and that you never left each other’s side. Do you remember how Dad would always say to you “You are so special to me, Krystyna” and you would reply “Joe, I am just like everyone else, but you make me feel special”. I am lucky to have grown up surrounded by this love, and I am thankful my girls have too.

The girls ask about you every day, they miss you so much. They often ask me to send you a big kiss and cuddle, or ‘smoosh’ as they like to say.

Like you Mum, Mia and Olivia loved nothing more than spending time with you, particularly in the garden. They would jump up and down on the trampoline trying to impress you while you tended to your beautiful plants.

In the rare moments when I have to remind them of their manners, you are still the first person they ask for because you always went in to bat for them!

They are growing up so fast, too fast, just like you always said. I continue to treasure every moment with them, just like you told me to.

I plan on taking the girls to a musical each year to keep your love of music, dance and theatre alive in them.

Later this October I will be running the Melbourne Marathon to fundraise for cancer research. I know how much you wanted to be there with the girls and Dad cheering me on, but I’ll be running in your honour Mum.

I am so grateful that advancements in cancer treatment gave you three and a half more years with us.

And, I am determined to continue to do everything I can to make sure this disease can no longer tear loved ones away too soon.

In the end, we knew your last day was coming, but it crept up on us all so quickly. You took your last breaths in Dad’s arms, surrounded by those who loved you most.
All you wanted was to care for your friends and family, and make sure that we would be okay.

Every day your positivity shone through like a beacon of light. Over the years that you were ill, you refused the limelight and the fuss, but the truth is, you were the real star, and I know you are shining brightly somewhere.

Thank you for being my best friend and for loving our family unconditionally.

Rest easy. Mum, I love you.

Donate to cancer research in memory of women affected by cancer

Many Australian women have been lost to cancer. If you want to help outsmart cancer, and make a difference for Australians like Michael and his family, donate to cancer research now.

Your donation will help fund groundbreaking research into the development of new ways to detect cancer and new treatments.

 

Donate Now

Hoover gives hope for nanomedicine cancer treatment

A ten-year-old beagle with prostate cancer is helping researchers at The University of Queensland use nanomedicines to accurately diagnose and target the disease.

Hoover is the first patient in the world to receive the nanomedicine, which the research team hopes will help track and treat his cancer, and lead to better treatment for people with the same disease.

Nanomedicine is the science of developing tiny particles for applications in health – in this case, therapeutics to specifically target a protein found in prostate cancer.

ACRF awarded the University of Queensland’s Centre for Advanced Imaging a $2.5 million grant in 2014, into investigating all types of cancer.

UQ Associate Professor Kris Thurecht said the new technology was important for advancing cancer treatments.

“Chemotherapy is a common treatment for most cancers,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it can also cause serious side effects because it is not always able to differentiate cancer cells from the healthy ones, sometimes damaging healthy cells in the process.

“Nanomedicines with the ability to target specific areas can lead us to target chemotherapy drugs to where they’re needed and kill cancerous cells with minimal impact on healthy cells.

Dr Thurecht said pre-clinical studies had been successful in treating prostate cancer in the laboratory, leading to total remission in some cases.

Our best friends may hold the key

“Validation of this science and technology in companion animals like Hoover is an exciting step forward in nanomedicine and towards human treatment,” he said.

Owner Brenda Douglas with Hoover, the world’s first patient to receive the novel nanomedicine

Dr Rod Straw, Veterinary Oncology Specialist, Brisbane Veterinary Specialist Centre and Australian Animal Cancer Foundation Director with Hoover and his owner, Brenda Douglas

Associate Professor Kris Thurecht and Dr Rod Straw, Centre for Advanced Imaging

Sarah Daniel, CAI Nuclear Scientist, analyses Hoover as he receives the novel nanomedicine; UQ Centre for Advanced Imaging

Hoover was chosen for the trial because dogs – like humans – naturally develop prostate cancer.

Dr Rod Straw, Veterinary Oncology Specialist and Director of Brisbane Veterinary Specialist Centre and the Australian Animal Cancer Foundation, said the beagle could prove to be the vanguard for a revolution in health care.

“Cases like Hoover’s are very important to cancer research,” he said.

“We can learn to develop cancer treatments for not only pets but humans as well.”

This article was published on the Centre for Advanced Imaging website, read the original here.

Prominent cancer research charities join forces

To mark World Cancer Research Day on 24 September 2018, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) is pleased to announce new collaborations with Australian Prostate Centre, Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) and the Snowdome Foundation. This will further enhance cancer research capacity in Australia and increase collaboration between cancer research funders.

ACRF provides outstanding Australian researchers with state-of-the-art equipment they need to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer. The new collaborations will provide additional funds to support personnel that operates equipment acquired with an ACRF grant. This ensures that the equipment will be used for maximum impact and efficiency.

ACRF Chief Executive Officer Professor Ian Brown says that the new collaborations are an excellent way to enhance the impact and improve the efficiency of funding for Australian cancer research.

“The benefit of the collaborations announced today mark a significant saving on resources and time for researchers. Less time will be spent on writing additional funding applications, allowing researchers to spend time on what really matters – cancer research.”

ACRF grant applications are assessed annually by the Medical Research Advisory Committee, comprising esteemed Australian and international cancer researchers and clinicians who volunteer their time. The Committee ensures that the most promising and impactful cancer research initiatives in Australia are recommended to the Board of Trustees to receive ACRF funding.

“These collaborations are a tremendous acknowledgement of the reputation and integrity of ACRF and its grant selection and governance procedures. We look forward to giving researchers not only the most advanced tools they need to outsmart cancer, but also simplifying the provision of human power to make it all happen.”

OCRF Chief Executive Officer Lucinda Nolan believes that collaborating with likeminded cancer research charities is a smarter way to progress towards shared goals.
“Collaboration makes us stronger, smarter and more efficient.” Ms Nolan says.

“Joint grants will unlock additional funding for ovarian cancer researchers and improve our ability to support a broader range of projects. This partnership is an exciting development for us and will hopefully accelerate progress within the research field.”

Mark Harrison, CEO at the Australian Prostate Centre says: “We are proud to be collaborating with ACRF in recognising and supporting potentially lifesaving cancer research in Australia. This agreement will accelerate research outcomes to benefit all Australian men with prostate cancer.”

Snowdome CEO Miriam Dexter says “The Snowdome Foundation is pleased to be collaborating with ACRF to advance translational blood cancer research. ACRF brings a national approach as well as a transparent, peer-reviewed grant review process. Further, by leveraging each organisations’ key funding focus, we are able to match hi-tech equipment with vital human infrastructure resulting in fast-tracking next-generation blood cancer treatments and ‘making hope real’ for Australian blood cancer patients.”

The current agreements will be in place until 2020.

The Silk Rags Project

We’re thrilled to announce a new collaboration with The Silk Rags Project, a performance designed to entertain, educate, start conversations and raise vital funds for cancer research.

Whilst undergoing cancer treatments, Briohne Sykes and Dee Handyside separately created two projects which reflected their personal experiences through theatre and music.

Combining their passions, The Silk Rags Project was formed: a one-act musical which guarantees audiences will laugh, cry, and learn. We’re honoured they’ve chosen to fundraise for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation through the project, where profits from performances will be donated.

Described as “poetic and pragmatic” by Ros Johnson of Dramaturg, and a “joyful musical reaction to a deadly serious subject” by Noel Mengel of The Courier Mail, The Silk Rags Project encourages theatre groups to organise a fundraising event and perform the mini-musical, which is simple to organize and is sure to be both challenging and educational.

At the conclusion of each performance, a handout is provided to audiences to provide tools to effectively communicate regarding different experiences of cancer. This has been created in conjunction with Griffith University, and builds on the themes of the play to better prepare audiences in dealing with a cancer diagnosis of a loved one.

We’re very honoured to be working with Scriptwriter Briohne Sykes and Composer Dee Handyside on this inspiring project, which is perfect for Australian theatre group’s 2019 production.

Find out more here, share this post with your local theatre group, and get ready to come along!

Promising Results from Zero Childhood Cancer Clinical Trial

The Zero Childhood Cancer program has just released initial results of its national clinical trial, revealing promising outcomes within its first 11 months.

Of the 128 children enrolled in the trial from across Australia with high-risk and relapsed cancers, 67% were provided with personalised treatment plans aimed at killing their unique cancer cells. For most children enrolled in the trial, there were otherwise few to no treatment options available to them.

Led by Children’s Cancer Institute and the Kids’ Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, Zero Childhood Cancer is one of the world’s most comprehensive child cancer personalised medicine studies. The trial uses sophisticated genetic tests to scientifically analyse each child’s individual cancer cells to identify and recommend new personalised treatment options.

ACRF is one of the founding funders of the Zero Childhood Cancer Project, a $1.5 million grant was awarded to the project in 2014.
Associate Professor Tracey O’Brien, Director, Kid’s Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick says the trial is giving a small group of children a better chance of survival, where current treatment affords little hope.

“Zero Childhood Cancer is about using the best science we have to give hope to children with high risk cancer. We must try a different approach. Accepting the status quo means that 70% of these children won’t survive to celebrate another birthday,” Associate Professor O’Brien said.

“Our early results are encouraging and as we learn more, I see future potential for targeted drug therapies to be used more broadly in all child cancers as a smarter way to achieve cure, while minimising therapy side effects.”

One step closer to personalised medicine

Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute, Professor Michelle Haber AM, said the Zero Childhood Cancer program is bringing us one step close to personalised medicine for all childhood cancers.

“Zero Childhood Cancer is giving unprecedented genetic and biological information for children with the most aggressive cancers. It is arguably the most comprehensive personalised medicine program for children with cancer in the world,” Professor Haber said.

“The information we gather will not only benefit children on the national clinical trial but will inform new discoveries and further clinical trials that we believe will impact all children with cancer in the future.”

No story exemplifies the impact of Zero Childhood Cancer more than that of Ellie. At just 11 months old, Ellie was diagnosed with infantile fibrosarcoma, a rare and aggressive tumour that was resistant to chemotherapy. The tumour was so large that she was on life support.

Following sequencing of the entire genetic material of Ellie’s tumour, the whole genome sequencing identified the specific genetic change likely to be driving Ellie’s cancer. The Zero Childhood Cancer team were then able to identify a new drug that specifically targeted that particular genetic change. The drug was sourced, after four weeks of treatment, Ellie’s cancer had shrunk enough for her to be taken off life support and breathe independently. Six weeks later, Ellie was home.

Ellie’s parents, Mina and Rob, know their daughter is only here today because of the Zero Childhood Cancer program.

“We were told to think about saying goodbye, she was so sick we didn’t even know if she would reach her first birthday. Now, to be celebrating her second birthday, when she is such an active, boisterous and energetic two-year-old is beyond our wildest dreams. We can’t thank the teams at the hospitals and research centres involved in the Zero Childhood Cancer program enough,” Mina said.

Outcomes of the Zero Childhood Cancer program over the past 11 months

  • 128 children registered for the trial after just 11 months, each of these are children with an aggressive cancer that is identified as having less than a 30% chance of survival
  • Of these, 36% have been enrolled at the time of relapse, 38% at diagnosis and 26% with progression of disease
  • In terms of cancer types, 36% have brain cancer, 29% sarcoma, 13% leukaemia, 6% neuroblastoma and 16% other rare cancers
  • For 67% of children a personalised treatment plan has been recommended
  • Average turnaround time from receipt of samples to personalised treatment recommendation is 9 weeks

Despite the dramatic increase in childhood cancer survival rates over the last sixty years from virtually 0 to 80%, three children and adolescents still die every week in Australia from cancer.

The original article was published on the Children’s Cancer Institute website,  read the original article here.