Childhood Cancer Awareness Fundraising ideas

Childhood cancer in Australia: statistics, incidence & types

Childhood cancers impact many young people across Australia. They typically are diagnosed in patients under 15 years old. Childhood cancers are rarer than adult cancers. They differ significantly from the cancers which affect adults, and as a result, require a specific treatment approach.

In Australia, more than 1000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer annually. The most common form of childhood cancer is Leukemia. 

There are several different types of leukemia that occur in children, but Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) are the most common.

How can I raise money for childhood cancer awareness?

There are many ways to raise money for childhood cancer research. By supporting Australian Cancer Research Foundation you help fund the boldest ideas in research that will help bring us closer to a world without cancer. 

Read on for some fundraising ideas for childhood cancer below.

Five fundraising ideas for childhood cancer 

  1. Take on the Hair Dare – and cut, colour or go zany with your hair to make a statement about supporting childhood cancers. 
  2. Run for childhood cancer research – take on a fun run or marathon challenge to raise funds. Or, if these events are not accessible to you, our Run Regardless campaign is the perfect challenge to take on. 
  3. Ask friends to donate in lieu of birthday or wedding gifts. There’s nothing like the warm feeling of knowing you’ve positively impacted those around you.
  4. Host a Quiz Night. Let’s get quizzical! Trivia or quiz nights are a great fundraising idea for large groups of people or corporate team building. 
  5. Workplace Fundraising – Whether it’s a morning tea, casual dress day, BBQ lunch, Friday social, Corporate Golf Day, auction or raffle, there are loads of ideas to suit your workplace and help raise much-needed funds for childhood cancers 

Ideas for childhood cancer fundraiser names

Coming up with a catchy fundraiser name can be difficult. Why not try using a pun or even a theme that runs throughout your fundraiser? A characteristic that unites your group could be a great place to start.

Some ideas for childhood cancer fundraiser names include:

  • Let’s get Quizzical for Children’s Cancer Research
  • Daring to raise funds for Children’s Cancer Research
  • Shaving our way to a Children’s cancer-free world
  • Racing for Childhood Cancer Research

ACRF can help you on your fundraising journey

Before you begin, you’ll need to register your details with ACRF so we can provide you with a letter of authority to fundraise on our behalf at your event. Once authorised you’ll gain access to our full support for your fundraising journey, to make it a fantastic success! 

We deeply appreciate everyone who chooses to fundraise for us and will help you on your fundraising journey with encouragement and resources to ensure your fundraiser is the best it can be. Thank you for Backing Brilliant cancer research.

DNA regulator offers new hope for Hodgkin lymphoma treatment

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered how a DNA-binding protein sustains Hodgkin lymphoma.

The world-first discovery has the potential to help treat the rare cancer with the development of therapeutics that target cells once they become cancerous. The findings are published in EMBO Reports.

Approximately 800 Australians are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma per year. The disease causes cancer in white blood cells, called lymphocytes, in men and women of any age, but young people in particular.

The research team discovered the histone protein, H2A.B that is normally active only in the testes and the brain, becomes abnormally activated in lymphocytes, stimulating conditions that sustain Hodgkin lymphoma. 

Lead researcher Dr Tanya Soboleva, from the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), said the discovery could hold the key to better health outcomes for thousands of patients globally.

“H2A.B. is an incredibly powerful protein. It binds to DNA and controls it in multiple ways including activation of genes that are known to promote cancer,” Dr Soboleva said.

“Histone proteins like H2A.B can package two meters of DNA into a cell that is only 20-micron in diameter. That is the same as packing a rope that is the diameter of a football field into a football.

“With H2A.B being active, the DNA packaging becomes less tight, making DNA more susceptible to the activity of cancer-driving proteins.

“In our study, we found that H2A.B becomes abnormally activated in all types of Hodgkin lymphoma and we have found the mechanism by which H2A.B drives cancer. Essentially, the protein stimulates cells in such a way that they grow and divide more readily.

“This is the first time it has been shown how a testis- and brain-specific protein can drive cancerous processes when it becomes active in the wrong cell type.

“Now that we have identified this protein and the role it plays in making cells cancerous, we think we can target it to stop this from happening.

“For example, our study shows that when we deplete H2AB quantities in Hodgkin lymphoma cells grown in a flask in the lab, the cells stop growing well.”

“Our discovery is really exciting. For the first time, we have the opportunity to target H2A.B only within Hodgkin lymphoma cells and spare all other cell types in our body,” Dr Soboleva said.

“Most cancer therapeutics aren’t currently able to do this.

“Besides new hope for those who suffer from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, these therapeutics could also work for those suffering other types of lymphoma and breast cancer.”

This research was undertaken by ANU PhD graduate Dr Xuanzhao Jiang; JCSMR bioinformatician, Dr Jiayu Wen; senior pathologist at the Canberra hospital, Professor Jane Dahlstrom; and was co-led by Professor David Tremethick from JCSMR.

This article originally appeared on the John Curtin School of Medical Research website. ACRF has backed $2.13 Million of Brilliant Cancer Research at JCSMR.

A Legacy of Research in Don’s Memory

“Cancer shatters your whole life forever. Not a minute goes by that I don’t think about him…”  Kathy James. 

In 2006, Don James was a fit and healthy, young-at-heart dad to Sophie and husband to Kathy.  

“Don had a melanoma removed from his back in 1988. The surgeon was very happy with the surgery and felt it got it all. Don returned annually for a check-up, however, he skipped the year prior to his death, which we now know could have saved him.”

Kathy learned that the melanoma on his back spread to his brain and metastasised. 

“It was just us three – Don, Sophie and I were very close. Don was the centre of our universe. He was the primary carer for 11-year-old Sophie. He worked from home so he would drop and pick up Sophie from school every day and later pick me up from the bus stop after work every day.  

“But one day he didn’t turn up. 

“I called home and when no-one answered – I knew something was terribly wrong.”

Sophie – now aged 22 years – takes up the story.  

“Dad picked me up from school that day but straight away I knew something was not right with him.  

“He wasn’t talking to me and wouldn’t answer any of my questions. We got home and I became increasingly worried and finally convinced him to drive to the hospital.  

“We got in the car but we didn’t get far. He just stopped the car.  He wasn’t able to drive anymore, so I called an ambulance,” said Sophie recalling that awful day.  

CT scans revealed Don had a malignant brain tumour on his frontal lobe. He was gone within 3 months. 

“Since Don’s death, we’ve also lost Don’s best friend and business partner who was also Sophie’s Godfather, to cancer. To watch the ones you love pass away is a terrible thing.  

“I am always so pleased when I hear about new treatments and better diagnoses for Melanoma.”

Kathy has included a gift in her Will to cancer research. She hopes no one else ever has to go through what she and Sophie went through when they lost the person who was the centre of their universe.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation thanks Kathy and Sophie for their support. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we’ve been able to Back Brilliant melanoma research, such as the ACRF Australian Centre for Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis. If you’re interested in leaving a legacy of cancer research by leaving a gift in your Will to ACRF, find out more here.

What are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

At Australian Cancer Research Foundation, thanks to the generosity of our donors, we support research into all types of cancer. This month, we share some important information on Lung Cancer.

How is lung cancer caused?

Lung cancer develops when cells in the lung grow abnormally to form a tumour.

Air that is breathed in the lungs flows through tubes called bronchi, which branch into smaller airways called bronchioles. These branches end in tiny sacs, called alveoli, where oxygen and carbon dioxide is exchanged.

Although lung cancer can develop in any part of the lung, most lung cancers begin in the cells that line these air passages (the bronchi) and the airway branches (alveoli or bronchioles) in the lung.

It is important to note that not all patients who develop lung cancer are smokers

What are some of the early signs of lung cancer?

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer vary depending on whether the lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the size of the tumour, and how much the tumour is affecting other organs in the body.

Lung cancer sometimes may not produce any signs and symptoms in the early stages or may appear in patients when the disease is already advanced.

The most common signs and symptoms of early lung cancer are:

  • A persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood in mucous or phlegm
  • Chest discomfort or pain that is often worse with laughing or coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • A hoarse voice
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Loss of appetite
  • Wheezing
  • Recurrent infections such as bronchitis.

The earlier lung cancer is detected, the more likely it is that treatment can successfully remove the cancer and prevent it from recurring.

What are the symptoms of advanced lung cancer?

Lung cancer is considered ‘advanced’ when it has spread from where it originally appeared in the lung. 

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer vary depending on whether the lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the size of the tumour and how much the tumour is affecting other organs in the body.

How do you test yourself for lung cancer?

Diagnostic tests and procedures to detect lung cancer include physical examination, chest x-rays, imaging scans of the chest, bronchoscopy, mediastinoscopy and video-assisted thoracoscopy. 

Laboratory tests may be ordered if symptoms suggest the existence of lung cancer tumours. This includes assessment of tissue samples, removing fluid from lungs, sputum (mucous coughed up from the lungs) or blood in urine.

The sooner testing can be carried out, the stronger the chance is for recovery. If you suspect you may have lung cancer, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.

Can lung cancer be cured completely?

With new methods of kinder and more effective treatments being developed by scientists, there is no ‘one size fits all’ standard for lung cancer treatment. Every individual is unique and may respond to treatment in different ways. 

Help ACRF achieve a world without cancer

At Australian Cancer Research Foundation, we help provide scientists with the technology and infrastructure needed to help find better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. Donate today and help us achieve our shared goal of a world without this devastating disease. 

Increasing the accuracy of early ovarian cancer detection

A test being developed in Queensland could help to reduce the high mortality rate from ovarian cancer by dramatically improving the accuracy of early detection.

University of Queensland researchers said the test had successfully detected more than 90 per cent of early ovarian cancer compared to 50 per cent for existing methods.

Project leader Associate Professor Carlos Salomon Gallo said results validated in 500 patients were extremely encouraging.

“The capacity of our method to identify positive cases suggests it could be an ideal first-line test for population screening,” Dr Salomon Gallo said.

“Our research aims to achieve rapid identification of ovarian cancer in the first and second stages of formation, which is where the current gaps in community detection are evident.”

In Australia, about 1500 cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed in 2019, and more than 1000 women died of the disease known as ‘the silent killer’.

The project has received $2.7 million from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to validate the method in a larger cohort of patients and for clinical implementation.

The test developed at the UQ Centre for Clinical Research targets tiny ‘bubbles’ produced by cells – exosomes.

“Exosomes essentially act as ‘letters’, travelling long distances via the bloodstream to deliver messages to other organs,” Dr Salomon Gallo said.

“They have the extraordinary ability to capture a snapshot of what’s going on inside the organs.

“By measuring these biomarkers we hope to be able to identify if women have early-stage ovarian cancer through a simple blood test.”

Dr Salomon Gallo and fellow chief investigators from UQ, Professor Gregory Rice and Professor Sunil Lakhani, will now increase the scale of their testing.

They will work with Professor Usha Menon of University College London to evaluate the test with data from the world’s largest ovarian cancer screening trial.

“We will have access to samples taken between one and five years before the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and will determine how early our test can identify these women,” Dr Salomon Gallo said.

The project also involves experts from National University Hospital, Singapore, and Australian National University.

The UQ team includes Dr Andrew Lai, Professor John Hooper, Professor Lewis Perrin, Associate Professor Jim Coward, Dr Shayna Sharma and Dr Priyakshi Kalita-de-Croft.

This article originally appeared on the University of Queensland Website. ACRF has given five grants of in total $17.4 Million to the University of Queensland for life-saving cancer research technology.

Women need individualised help with weight after endometrial cancer

Women recovering from endometrial cancer require health professionals to provide them with individualised weight management plans to assist with their recovery, a University of Queensland study has shown.

UQ’s Professor Monika Janda said endometrial cancer was the most common sub-type of womb cancer and survivors often had issues with obesity and weight gain before and following treatment.

“Being obese or overweight is a major risk factor for endometrial cancer and even nine years after surgery, we found that the vast majority of the women were not content with their current weight,” Professor Janda said.

This topic is important for women as they also have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions if they’re overweight.

The study investigated weight perceptions among long-term endometrial cancer survivors and what weight control methods women used.

“We asked what weight management plans they followed and they had tried all kinds of different diets that you can think of, except very few tried fasting,” Professor Janda said.

“Findings from this study suggest there is a need for health professionals and lifestyle educators to develop tailored and individualised diet and weight management plans to address the specific needs of long-term survivors following treatment for endometrial cancer.

“One of the key activities in this research was to investigate why they found it so hard to lose weight and how this could be made easier.

“They suggested that it would be good to have peer support or counselling at the time of surgery – someone who had been through the same process to support them.”

The study surveyed 259 women who were on average nine years post-surgery.

Professor Janda, who leads the Behavioural Science Unit at UQ’s Centre for Health Services Research, said the data in the current paper was a long-term follow-up of an original trial with 760 women.

“The original trial was a surgical trial which compared open abdominal surgery with laparoscopic surgery, which is keyhole surgery,” she said.

“That trial showed that laparoscopic surgery gives women better quality of life, we then followed these women to determine who still had adverse events following their laparoscopic surgery.

“We found that the women who were overweight or obese were at greater risk of complications after surgery, so we asked them in the follow-up what they do about weight loss, and that is what inspired this new paper.”

This article originally appeared on the University of Queensland Website. ACRF has given five grants of in total $17.4 Million to the University of Queensland for life-saving cancer research.

How Many Types of Cancer Are There?

Most people in Australia will be impacted by cancer either through a personal diagnosis or by family and friends being touched by this disease. We stand united with our incredible supporters in the understanding that by funding world-class research into this disease one day a world without cancer will be our reality. 

Today we answer some frequently asked questions about cancer, to bring more understanding to this complex disease. 

What is cancer? 

Cancer is when cells grow in an abnormal way and multiply uncontrollably, invading healthy tissue.

The body has natural systems to prevent the growth of cancerous cells by either repairing the damage to the DNA or forcing the cell to die, if the damage is too great. Cancer occurs when these inbuilt defence mechanisms fail.

How many different types of cancer are there? 

There are more than 200 different types of cancer

Cancerous cells can grow abnormally in blood or form masses called tumours. Some tumours are benign – meaning they can’t spread and therefore aren’t cancerous.

Malignant tumours, which are cancerous, are collections of abnormal cells that do spread and invade healthy tissue. 

What are the most common types of cancer? 

In 2020, Breast Cancer was the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in Australia. This was followed by Prostate Cancer, Melanoma of the Skin, Colorectal also known as Bowel Cancer and Lung Cancer

Here’s more about the 5 most common types of cancer:

Breast Cancer: In patients with Breast Cancer, abnormal cells develop in the breast and form tumours which invade the surrounding breast tissue. Breast cancer can occur in both males and females, though male breast cancer accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases.

Prostate Cancer: Prostate Cancer begins with small changes or abnormalities in the shape and size of the prostate gland cells. Eventually, these cells form tumours.

Melanoma of the Skin: Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes. 

The most common locations for Melanomas are chest and back for men, and legs for women. 

Bowel Cancer: Bowel Cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the wall of the large intestine grow in an uncontrolled way. Bowel Cancer refers to any cancer that starts in the large intestine. It is also referred to as; Colon Cancer, Rectal Cancer or Colorectal Cancer – depending on where it is found in the intestine.

Lung Cancer: In patients with Lung Cancer, abnormal cells develop in one or both lungs and grow in an uncontrolled way to form tumours. These tumours can affect how the lungs usually work, which is to supply oxygen to the body through the bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide from the body.
At Australian Cancer Research Foundation, we fund life-saving research into all types of cancer, all across Australia. 

Rare types of cancer 

In Australia, a rare cancer is defined as one which has fewer than 6 diagnoses per 100,000 of the population. The rarity of these cancers mean research is limited, and so are the treatment options. 

For example, compared with adult cancers, childhood cancers are rare and there are a number of very rare types which account for around 20-25% of all childhood cancers. These include children’s liver tumours (like Hepatoblastoma and  Hepatocellular carcinoma) and other rare childhood cancers like cancers of the digestive system, the thyroid, and the adrenal gland.

As a consequence of limited research and treatment options, patients diagnosed with rare cancers can face significant challenges due to the unknown nature of these diseases. 

Help ACRF Fundraise for Cancer Research 

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, every day researchers are working tirelessly on better ways to prevent, detect and treat all types of cancer. If you would like to donate today to help bring us closer to a world without cancer, we would greatly appreciate it. Make your donation here. 

Does Donating to Cancer Research Help?

Donating to cancer research is an essential way to help ensure scientists have the tools they need to find better ways to prevent, detect and treat all types of cancer. Currently, cancer impacts 1 in 3 Australians personally, with the remaining 2 being closely impacted by a diagnosis. You can get more information and facts about cancer here.

What is cancer research? 

Cancer research is based around finding safe ways to prevent, detect and treat the collection of diseases that we refer to as cancer. 

Areas of cancer research include:

  • Prevention – actions taken to reduce and lower the risks associated with getting cancer. Includes research into environmental, lifestyle, medicines and substances, and vaccines that can have both a positive and negative impact on your likelihood of developing cancer.
  • Detection – improving the modes and methods for discovery of different cancer types. This is focused on the detection of cancer cells at the earliest possible point, which is when the disease is easiest to treat.
  • Treatment  – developing new and improving existing cancer treatment methods (across all types of therapies), with a focus on higher efficacy and reduction of side-effects or negative impacts.
  • Survivorship  – cancer survivorship looks at the overall health and wellbeing of people living with and beyond cancer. Survivorship research covers factors from the moment of diagnosis through treatment and life beyond treatment. This could include management of chronic illness, end-of-life care, and follow-up care.

How does donating to cancer research help 

By donating to cancer research, you ensure scientists have the tools they need to find better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. Donations are extremely essential to help stop lives being taken by this disease. 

At ACRF, our mission is to reach a world without cancer. We fund research into all types of cancer, all across Australia. 

Learn more about how you can help cancer research

The importance of cancer research 

Cancer research is extremely important, as it is essential in helping find ways to manage this disease so that it cannot take more lives.

Our grants are awarded only to grand breaking cancer research initiatives, and have led to some amazing discoveries. 

  • Cervical Cancer Vaccine: ACRF supporters enabled the seed funding for Professor Ian Frazer’s development of a cervical cancer vaccine. Thanks to a national immunisation program, Australia is set to be the first country to effectively eliminate the disease.
  • The Pill That Melts Cancer: ACRF supporters enabled landmark research resulting in the discovery of the potent anti-cancer drug, Venetoclax. It continues to bring hope to people with cancer.
  • Personalised Cancer Treatment: ACRF supporters enabled an ambitious project that aims to provide each cancer patient a personalized treatment plan within 36 hours of diagnosis.
  • Zero Childhood Cancer: Thanks to ACRF supporters, we became one of the founding partners of an initiative to tackle the most difficult cases of infant, childhood and adolescent cancer in Australia. Clinical trials are currently underway nationally and results are looking positive.

How to donate to cancer research with ACRF

Donating to ACRF is easy and all donations over $2 are tax deductible. 

One of the most powerful ways to donate to cancer research is by becoming an ACRF Luminary – our special community who help make long-term impacts for people diagnosed with cancer by donating monthly.

You can also donate in memory of loved ones who have been impacted by cancer research to celebrate their lives, or donate in celebration of a special occasion – like a birthday, wedding or occasion. 

Bone Cancer Awareness Month: FAQs about bone cancer, sarcomas & bone tumours

July is International Bone Cancer and Sarcoma Awareness Month. By supporting Australian Cancer Research Foundation, you help fund cutting-edge research into all types of cancer, including Bone Cancer. We would like to take this opportunity to answer some frequently asked questions about this type of cancer. 

What is bone cancer awareness month?

Bone Cancer Awareness month is an opportunity to bring public awareness to Bone Cancer and stand in solidarity with those who will be impacted by this disease. It is also a time to give our sincere thanks to all those working tirelessly on better ways to prevent, detect and treat Bone Cancer.

What is bone cancer? 

Bone Cancer begins when bone cells multiply unusually and rapidly and begin to break down the bone. Bone Cancer cells can also break away from the bone and travel to other bones, or other organs in the body when they can continue to grow as secondary tumours.

Primary Bone Cancer is very rare. More often, people with cancer in their bones have a secondary cancer from somewhere else in the body. When the secondary cancer starts to grow within the bone, it still represents the original cell type (ie. a breast cancer cell, or a lung cancer cell for example), and is best treated as such.

While any cancer type can spread to the bone, the most common are breast, lung, kidney, thyroid, and prostate. Bone metastases most often arise in the hip, thighbone, shoulder, and spine.

The most common form of Bone Cancer is known as Osteosarcoma, which is most commonly diagnosed in teenagers. 

When is Bone Cancer Awareness Month? 

Bone Cancer Awareness Month is held annually in July. It is marked across the world to raise both awareness and funds for bone cancer.

What colour ribbon is for Bone Cancer Awareness Month?

The official ribbon colour for Bone Cancer Awareness Month is yellow.

Why not host a yellow themed Cuppa for Cancer to raise funds for Bone Cancer Research? Or even a yellow gala ball to help bring us closer to a world without cancer? There are so many ways to get involved in fundraising for cancer awareness. Check out our list of socially distanced cancer fundraising ideas.

How ACRF is helping research into bone cancer 

Made possible only by the generosity of our amazing supporters, ACRF have funded a number of world-class projects into bone cancers.

These include the creation and expansion of the ACRF Rational Drug Discovery Centre at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, and the ACRF Comprehensive Cancer Genomics Facility at the Diamantina Institute, University of Queensland.

If you would like to support more Bone Cancer research projects such as these, you can donate here. We’re so thankful for your support. 

Canberra Cancerians Help Fund Research ‘Together’

On Thursday night 10 June, not even a cold Canberra night could deter a generous Canberra Community from coming together for the Canberra Cancerians 2021 Together Cocktail party.

The party theme ‘together’ was to symbolise that as individuals, we can only do so little, but together as a community, we can do so much to help fund cancer research.

A group of over 170 enjoyed each others company and exquisite food and cocktails and all dug deep to help raise much-needed funds.

In the end, the generous Canberra Cancerians community raised significantly more than hoped from a combination of donations, wine bottle lucky dips and by supporting the famous Canberra Cancerians charity bar, which never fails to raise funds.

The cocktail party was a great appetiser for the Canberra Cancerians next gala dinner coming this summer.

ACRF would like to acknowledge Canberra Cancerian’s dedicated support and thank them for their generosity. Our Cancerian Committees are so important to us – as charity volunteer groups that organise events in their local communities, they provide vital support to help bring us closer to a world without cancer. Learn more about joining a Cancerian Committee here.

Sunrise Foundation Plays Vital Role in Supporting Cancer Research

Without the generous support of individuals, businesses and family foundations, ACRF would not be able to accelerate important life-changing cancer research. The vision of philanthropists and the charitable mindset of generations of families play a vital role in realising our shared dream of a world without cancer.

One such family has played a significant role in the success of ACRF’s cancer research programs, giving over a quarter of a million dollars to various projects since 2009. ACRF’s Philanthropy Manager, Victoria Bonsey, interviewed family members of the Sunrise Foundation recently to get their insight into the why and how of their charitable giving.

How did Sunrise Foundation come about?

The Sunrise Foundation was the brainchild of our parents, Michael and Moreen Eger. The name drew inspiration from the family business established by Michael’s father and grandfather, called Sunrise Confectioners.

The family business was successful and when it was sold in 2003, it was still run as a family business with a strong culture of care and compassion for all who worked there.

The Sunrise Foundation was created with a view to creating a philanthropic commitment they could begin and then handover to their children and grandchildren to continue their legacy of social responsibility and trying to make a difference whenever you can.

The original Sunrise Confectioners factory.

Why did you start to give to charity?

Caring for not only yourself but others, has always been a theme instilled in us by our family as we were growing up. As long as we can remember, our grandmother had many charitable interests she supported. The idea that you aim to do as well as you can in life whilst knowing that there is always the capacity to share what you have with others. Some of the most charitable people we have met have had very little but still managed to share what they have with others. Charity should be a mindset, not a dollar value.

Why did you choose to support cancer research and in particular ACRF?

It sounds like a cliche but the truth is that the longer you live, the higher likelihood is that cancer will touch your life in some way. This intersection forces you to consider the impact of cancer on family, friends and the community.  Exposed to cancer’s impact on those around her, for Moreen it seemed logical to support research efforts that will have contribute to decreasing the impact of cancer on society. 

We chose ACRF specifically as it is one of the Sunrise Foundation’s goals to provide philanthropic support to agencies that ensure monies received are directed efficiently where they are needed the most – ie. with the least amount of cost.

How do you feel knowing that your support can save lives?

Of course, knowing that our support can provide this gives a sense of accomplishment and renewed purpose.  It is also a great feeling to know that you’re contributing to a ripple effect: the ability to support the researchers’ efforts, give hope and some comfort to those experiencing the impact of cancer. Supporting the dedicated pursuit of knowledge through research is one small way that we feel we can help to make a difference.

The most impactful way to give is to pick a few special causes, rather than spread a smaller donation amount over a larger group of charities. How do you collectively decide on what is the most deserving cause given how varied your interests must be?

Ultimately all causes are deserving.  We aim to direct the Sunrise Foundation’s limited resources to achieve maximum impact with the most efficient return on the support provided. For example, we have withdrawn support in the past when we had concerns about how much of the money was ultimately being provided to those who needed it and being consumed by administrative costs.

We have a philosophy of thinking globally and acting locally when possible by being in tune with areas that need support and looking for local agencies that are engaged in those areas. This is in contrast to contributing to a much larger global pool without any clear idea of ultimately, what and where the impact of that contribution might be occurring.

What would your advice be to someone considering giving more to ACRF or to charity in general?

Do your homework. Dig into the charity and found out what they actually support. Find out for yourself what work is being done, what is needed and how well the charity is working towards meeting that need. Follow the charitable chain to the source to ensure that any support translates into positive outcomes. If you invest the time and energy into building a good relationship with the people running the charity and those who they support, you will feel far more connected to the ‘team’ helping to deliver those positive outcomes.

Find out more information on supporting ACRF through our unique philanthropic initiative, ACRF Accelerate, here.

Ten-Fold Increase in Research Capacity Enabled by ACRF Supporters

In 2015, Australian Cancer Research Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to the Australian Synchrotron for a detector that analyses the shape and function of proteins on the Institute’s Micro Crystallography (MX2) beamline. Thanks to this funding, this process is now delivered in a fraction of the time it took previously – a ten-fold increase in capacity, crucial to accelerating cancer drug development. This has been made possible by the generosity of our ACRF community.

The Australian Synchrotron houses two beamlines with complementary capabilities, MX1 and MX2.  

MX1 facilitates high-density throughput screening.MX2,with its upgraded ACRF Detector, is ideal for weakly-diffracting hard-to-crystallise proteins, viruses, protein assemblies and nucleic acids – as well as smaller molecules such as inorganic catalysts and organic drug molecules. 

In 2020, the ACRF Detector collected 46,683,192 diffraction images, associated with 56,045 datasets across 208 distinct group experiments, leading to advances in the understanding and potential treatment of cancers. 

These advances included the first building block of a drug to target acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and a discovery that will pave the way for developing improved therapies for a range of cancers. 

  • Targeting AML: Researchers at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, using the ACRF Detector at the Synchrotron found a way to target AML, an aggressive and often incurable cancer. The protein HBO1 is essential for the survival of leukemic stem cells, likely to be the main cause for resistance to current AML treatments. 
    The research team undertook a series of experiments to discover the part of the HBO1 protein that was critical for its function in stem cells and then developed a small molecule – the first building block of a drug – that could suppress the activity of HBO1 in AML cells. 
  • A model for the development of new cancer treatments: A study by Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute researchers highlights the synergy between an antibody fragment that acts as a bridge helping to link together two key immune cell receptors. It also takes advantage of their interaction, enabling the body to enhance its immune response to cancer. This discovery will serve as a model for the potential development of new, improved therapies against a broad range of cancers. 

In 2020, 204 peer-reviewed journal publications were produced, containing data from the MX1 and MX2 beamlines, with a substantial proportion of these (~50%) published in high-impact journals. 

Significantly, 152 of 480 protein structure deposits into the Worldwide Protein Bank were specifically from research undertaken using the ACRF Detector. 

Research undertaken using the ACRF Detector continues to inform and assist cancer research as it expands the store of knowledge on protein structures, biomolecular processes and structural determination methods. 

Thank you to all our generous supporters who continue to make progress like this possible. Together we can make a world without cancer a reality.

‘Tiny first responders’ use powers for good against skin cancer

Researchers investigating a group of microscopic cells have discovered they can put the brakes on the rapid development of melanoma lesions.  
Photograph of Cyril Seillet outside WEHI
Dr Cyril Seillet

A team at WEHI, in collaboration with the University of Queensland and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, have taken a close look at the relatively recently identified Group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2) which are crucial for initiating and orchestrating immune responses.

UQ Diamantina Institute’s Professor Gabrielle Belz said their aim was to understand more about the function of these relatively recently identified cells and their roles in melanoma.

“We wanted to investigate how ILC2 contribute to melanoma formation, because we already knew these cells harboured functions that could either suppress or stimulate production of cancerous tumours,” Professor Belz said.

“Previously, we understood very little about the underlying mechanisms of these intriguing cells, and whether they could be clinically relevant or targeted to apply the brakes on melanoma development.

“We discovered these cells can halt the rapid development of full-blown melanoma lesions and can potentially be harnessed to drive protective functions with potential immunotherapy applications.”

At a glance

  • Researchers have taken a close look at the Group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2) which are crucial for initiating and orchestrating immune responses.
  • They discovered the ILC2 cells can halt the rapid development of melanoma lesions and can potentially be harnessed to drive protective functions with potential immunotherapy applications.
  • This opens a new pathway to explore targets not previously used as part of immunotherapy treatments, to both prevent development of metastasis and prevent resistance to therapy.

Enhancing anti-tumour activity

Approximately two thirds of Australians will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer before they are 70 years of age, and Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world.

WEHI’s Dr Cyril Seillet the research found that high ILC2 infiltration in human melanoma was associated with a good clinical prognosis.

“We found that ILC2 within tumours express the immune checkpoint inhibitor PD-1. We could enhance the anti-tumour activity of ILC2 with an existing cancer immunotherapy that blocks PD-1 interactions,” he said.

“ILC2s are also critical producers of a colony-stimulating factor known as GM-CSF, which coordinates the recruitment and activation of a type of disease-fighting white blood cell called eosinophils.”

“Our results identified not only that ILC2s have a critical function in melanoma immunity, but also that there was a potentially coordinated approach to harness ILC2 function for anti-tumour immunotherapies.

“Science underpins healthcare, and this opens a new pathway to explore targets not previously used as part of the immunotherapy regime, to both prevent development of metastasis and prevent resistance to therapy.”

Hope for new treatments

Dr Nicolas Jacquelot, who helped lead the study at WEHI and is now at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Canada, said the findings were promising.

“This shows our capacity to further increase immune responses against melanoma and the possibility to develop new immunotherapy strategies to boost the ILC2-eosinophil axis to fight tumour cells,” Dr Jacquelot said.

“This gives us real hope for improving outcomes for patients.”

Associate Professor Paul Neeson said the team at Peter Mac and the collaborative Centre for Cancer Immunotherapy was able to clinically validate the findings in human skin and, in particular, cases of melanoma.

“Our team showed these rare immune cells (ILC2) were present in human melanoma samples – both when patients were first diagnosed, and in patients with advanced disease,” Dr Neeson said.

This work was made possible with support from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Victorian Government.

This article originally appeared on the WEHI website. In 2018, ACRF granted $9.9 Million to UQ’s Diamantina Institute for cutting-edge melanoma research thanks to the generosity of our supporters.

Viruses and Cancer

During the past year, COVID-19 has taught us to appreciate the significant impact that viruses can have on our health and well-being.  Human health can be impacted by many different types of virus with some causing diseases such as the common cold (rhinovirus), influenza, rabies and poliomyelitis.  

The potential impact of viruses can be avoided or minimised by a person’s general good health, strength of the immune system, favourable genetics, avoidance of sources of infection and immunisation.  However, on rare occasions, viral infections have been shown to lead to cancer.

Oncogenic viruses (viruses that can cause cancer) act by integration of their DNA into the host cell.  This can lead to the development of cancer in a variety of ways, such as when these viral oncogenic genes impair the functioning of two families of tumour suppressor proteins, namely p53 and retinoblastoma proteins (Rb).  

P53 and Rb are involved in controlling the cell division cycle by allowing time for damaged or altered DNA to the repaired and, if repair is not possible, to initiate programmed cell death or apoptosis.  Interference or disabling p53 and/or Rb can instigate uncontrolled cell division leading to cancer.  In addition, the cancer may arise through the action of the oncogenic virus leading to the suppression or disruption of the immune system or by the viral infection causing long-term or chronic inflammation in the susceptible organ or tissue.

In 2002 the World Health Organisation estimated that about 18% of human cancers were caused by viral infections and with the majority attributed to only seven viruses.  

  1. Human papillomavirus (HPV) – there are more than 200 types of HPV, with 14 high-risk types including HPV 16 and HPV 18.  Transmission is through skin-to-skin contact and has been shown to cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus and oropharynx.  Supporters like you contributed to the seed funding for Professor Ian Frazer’s development of a cervical cancer vaccine which protects against HPV 16 and HPV 18. Thanks to a national immunisation program, Australia is set to be the first country to effectively eliminate the disease.
  2. Epstein-Barr virus (EPV) – this herpes type virus is usually associated with mononucleosis or glandular fever and is spread through bodily fluids such as saliva and blood.  EPV can lead to mutations that contribute to certain rare cancers, such as Burkitt’s lymphoma, nasopharyngeal cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  
  3. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) – spread through sharing bodily fluids.  Chronic HBV infection leads to liver inflammation and damage that are risk factors for liver cancer. 
  4. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) – less likely to show symptoms than HBV but with a higher incidence of chronic infection.  HCV is associated with liver inflammation and damage which are risk factors for liver cancer.
  5. Human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8) – transmitted through saliva.  Infections are rare and can particularly impact on people with a weakened immune system.  HHV-8 has been associated with Kaposi sarcoma.  
  6. Human T-lymphotrophic virus (HTLV) – a retrovirus that is spread through blood transfers, breast milk and semen.  There are no symptoms but HTLV is associated with acute T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma.
  7. Merkel Cell polyomavirus (MCV) – potential skin-to-skin transmission with no symptoms.  MCV is associated with Merkel Cell carcinoma, a rare type of skin cancer. 

The prevention of viral cancers has found success in utilising vaccines to stimulate the body’s immune system to block infection.  The Hepatitis B vaccine was the first vaccine recognised for its ability to help reduce the risk of liver cancer.  The HPV vaccine (Gardasil) was approved by the FDA in 2006 to prevent cervical cancer in adolescent girls.  Hundreds of millions of doses of Gardasil have been used in many countries around the world in preventative campaigns.  Subsequent research has shown it to be effective in reducing the incidence of a number of other genital cancers in both boys and girls.  The current version, Gardasil 9, protects against nine types of HPV including seven of those posing the highest risk.

Apart from vaccines the prevention of viral infections is best achieved through good hygiene, hand washing, not sharing personal items, using barrier protection during sexual activity and screening for viral infections such as HCV. 

This article was written by Dr Ian Brown, ACRF Chief Scientific Officer.

Scientists find new insight into how cancer cells spread

Researchers at Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) have published in Clinical Epigenetics about a protein found to play an important role in cancer cell division. The research found that by depleting the BRG1 protein in cancer cells, genes involved in DNA replication were repressed. This finding reveals new insight into how cancer cells spread and hints at new drug targets in cancer treatment.

The research was the brainchild of Dr Kate Giles in the Genome Integrity unit at CMRI, who started looking at the BRG1 protein eight years ago. “The initial work, performing RNA sequencing on prostate cancer tissue, was performed as part of my PhD in 2014, so this has been a long journey and it’s great to see it complete and published,” Dr Giles said. “There have been four or five studies on the over-expression of BRG1 in cancers, but our research is different because we’re looking at why this overexpression of BRG1 matters. We wanted to know what it does.”

Dr Giles and her fellow researchers used prostate cancer samples to examine the pathways within a cell that were affected by BRG1. They found that certain genes behaved differently in the presence of BRG1, and all these genes had a role in cell division. Once they knew that which genes were affected by BRG1, the researchers depleted BRG1 and found it inhibited cell division.

This action of the BRG1 protein comes under what biologist call ‘epigenetics’. Epigenetics is the study of how the same base genetic information in DNA can produce different outcomes in different cells. While our DNA remains the same in every cell, genes can be turned on, turned off, or repressed by proteins present in the cell. The protein BRG1, part of the larger SWI/SNF protein (pronounced swee-sniff), makes physical changes to the scaffolding on which genetic information sits (chromatin remodelling), altering which genetic information is ‘accessible’ and which proteins are able to be produced.

“We can think of DNA as a paragraph of text on a page with all the core information about a person,” Dr Giles explained. “Epigenetics is like the punctuation, the highlighting, and the crossing-out which gives different emphasis to the text. Through epigenetic processes, the same core text can be read differently in different cells or under different conditions. We can highlight text that is particularly important to a cell, or we could redact certain words or phrases. These changes can turn genes on or off in specific cells.”

Moving to CMRI was able to help Dr Giles understand why the overexpression of BRG1 was important in cancer cells.

“Confirming the functional effect of BRG1 has been the majority of my research here at CMRI. Coming to CMRI was where the research took off because of the particular expertise of the people here. Being able to collaborate with colleagues who were experts in cell cycle processes was particularly helpful.”

Dr Giles speculated on BRG1 as a target for cancer drug treatments. “BRG1 would be a nice target for certain leukaemias and some breast cancers. Unfortunately, at the moment there are only two drug inhibitors of BRG1, and the part of the protein they target doesn’t completely stop its function.”

Dr Giles was optimistic on the future of epigenetic research and, in particular, of the importance of chromatin remodelling research. “I do really like this type of research. I’m really glad that it’s led to the project I’m working on now at CMRI. Chromatin remodelling can sometimes be overlooked, but we think that’s changing.”

This article originally appeared on the CMRI website. ACRF has granted $12 Million to CMRI for world-class cancer research.

Cancer Researcher Inspired by Nature to Kill Cancer

A WA discovery made global news when venom from honeybees was found to kill aggressive breast cancer cells.

Associate Professor and Wesfarmers Fellow, Dr Pilar Blancafort, from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, co-published these findings with her PhD student Dr Ciara Duffy and laboratory co-workers a few months ago.

Their results revealed that honeybee venom rapidly destroyed triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.

Dr Blancafort says this discovery was inspired by nature.

“In discovery-based research, we go to mother nature to understand what it does. This is the importance of the biomedical research that we do in our laboratory – we take something that exists in nature and apply it to target hard-to-treat cancers and other diseases,” says Dr Blancafort.

Dr Blancafort believes you should travel the world and place yourself in uncomfortable situations to free yourself up to discover new things. She feels that this is the essence of discovery.

“You truly start from scratch in discovery research with no precedent, so there is an inherent risk – but you have to try in order to reach the impact needed to solve biological problems, such as those in cancer biology. I have always learned so much from moving away from the same place, to explore the world, and free myself to think in other directions. The answer is there, somewhere,” says Dr Blancafort.

No-one had previously compared the effects of a small peptide named melittin, found in the honeybee venom, across the different subtypes of breast cancer and normal cells. Dr Duffy, under Dr Blancafort’s supervision, tested the venom on normal breast cells and found that it was extremely potent.

“We found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes and substantially reduced the chemical messages of cancer cells that are essential to growth and cell division,” says Dr Blancafort.

The team is also keen to investigate melittin’s applicability to other diseases such as ovarian cancer.

While it’s early days, the laboratory work is deemed significant – suggesting melittin might help develop better-targeted treatment for breast and other cancers. However, it’s a long process from bench to bedside with numerous steps over several years required before development of commercial treatments can occur.

“The next steps require a multidisciplinary collaboration and a significant investment of resources,” says Dr Blancafort.

“We are grateful for our community of loyal supporters. They’re crucial because they support the early discovery part of the research and donate to the ongoing exploration.

“We need funding to help take our research from where we are now to where we want to be. We’re curious and willing to take the risk, and looking forward to collaborating with others who value the impact we can make in the community.

Professor Peter Leedman, Director of Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and 2021 recipient of an Officer of the Order of Australia says, “This is an incredibly exciting observation that melittin can suppress the growth of deadly breast cancer cells.

“Triple-negative breast cancer and other hard-to-treat cancers are a major focus for researchers at the Perkins.

“We thank all our supporters in the WA community who make our research possible.”

This article originally appeared on the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research Website. ACRF has given $1.75 Million to Harry Perkins for cancer research equipment.

ACRF Bequestor Story: Fred Kewley

Ninety-nine-year-old Fred Kewley sits in the lounge room of the Sydney home he and wife Norene moved into in 1956.   

“It was Norene’s Uncle who built this place. Before moving in here, we lived at her parent’s to save money, which was common back then. Over the years we’ve renovated a little, but basically, it is the same as when we moved in all those years ago. 

Their marriage spanned some 62 years before Norene sadly passed in 2009. 

“We met at a dance in 1943. That’s how people met back then,” says Fred with a laugh.  

Norene was a civilian working for the petrol company Shell and Fred was training to become an aircraft engine fitter with the RAAF.  

“We danced together then when I asked her to go out with me, she said no! But as it was close to Christmas and as I didn’t have any family in Sydney, she very kindly invited me home for Christmas lunch.  

Soon after that Fred was sent up to Darwin for 18 months where he worked on an airstrip. 

“We kept writing and I must have won her over with my letters, because when I was de-mobbed in April of 1946, she agreed to marry me! 

“We married in November 1946 – almost four years to the day we met.   

In 1981 Fred retired after 25 years’ service with CSIRO. He and Norene became avid travellers, enjoying many Australian trips as well and international. Fred said Europe was their ‘biggest adventure’ and Japan the most fascinating. Their last holiday together was a Pacific Island cruise which Fred says was memorable for many good reasons.  

As he approaches a century this year Fred reflects on a blessed life and shares his secret to longevity. 

“Keeping busy keeps you going,” says a thoughtful Fred.  

With a social calendar bursting with lunch dates, Fred says he enjoys keeping up social engagements as well as attending his RSL Sub-branch and Probus meetings.  

Fred also says it is important to give back. While neither Fred nor his wife suffered cancer, they have lost many friends to cancer, so he has included a bequest to ACRF in his will. 

“I did that because cancer is such a serious problem, but also because it is the right thing to do.   

“I support lots of good causes, but I think cancer research is one of the most important ones. I encourage others to consider a gift in their Will to cancer research. We really do need to advance research to make progress with this disease”, Fred says.  

Fred is a highly valued supporter of ACRF and the team are honoured he has chosen to support us with his bequest.  

To learn more about including a gift in your Will, or to book to attend ACRF Wills Days, please contact Lee Christian at bequest@acrf.com.au

Researchers develop new test for Metastised Melanoma

Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have developed a prototype test that can help identify if patients with deadly metastasised melanoma are likely to benefit from immunotherapy.

Details about the test and the study have been published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The prototype test detects levels of the protein LC3B on cancer cells. High levels of LC3B are associated with better patient responses to a form of treatment known as checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy.

Metastatic melanoma is a very aggressive disease and according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1,375 Australians died from it in 2020.

Most patients undergo surgery and almost all patients with metastatic melanoma are now given immunotherapy as a standard frontline treatment.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Jason Lee, who heads QIMR Berghofer’s Epigenetics and Disease group, said immunotherapies have remarkably improved treatment and survival rates for metastatic melanoma, but more than half of all patients do not respond.

“We need to treat these patients quickly and with the correct kinds of drugs to have any success,” Associate Professor Lee said.

“Our study found patients with high levels of LC3B in their tumour cells had significantly longer survival due to better responses to immunotherapy treatment than those with lower levels. The study showed 95 per cent of patients with high LC3B levels were alive after 3 years, compared to 60 per cent of patients with low LC3B levels.”

The researchers used tumour and blood samples collected from melanoma patients before and after treatment to get a better understanding of the role of the LC3B protein in metastatic melanoma and to develop the prototype test.

PhD candidate in QIMR Berghofer’s Epigenetics and Disease group, Greg Kelly, said they also identified that patients with metastatic melanoma had very high levels of the epigenetic enzyme G9a – which acts on LC3B protein.

“The enzyme G9a acts like a traffic jam, reducing the ability of cancer fighting immune cells to reach the tumour,” Mr Kelly said.

“Building on the group’s previous work, we explored how targeting the G9a enzyme could help in the fight against melanoma. Our lab experiments showed inhibiting the G9a enzyme led to higher levels of LC3B proteins so the immune system could re-engage in the fight against melanoma both on its own, and in combination with immunotherapy.”

Associate Professor Lee said the findings provided hope of new treatment options in the future.

“We are now also working to develop a drug that can effectively inhibit the G9a enzyme,” Associate Professor Lee said.

“We believe blocking the activity of G9a enzymes will in turn raise the level of LC3B protein, making patients more responsive to immunotherapy and possibly even other treatments.

“We are actively working to develop a drug that can be used to treat patients, but this will take time.”

Associate Professor Lee said the researchers plan to expand the study using a larger set of patient samples to test the robustness of the prototype test to predict immunotherapy resistance.

This article originally appeared on the QIMR Berghofer website .

Jennifer’s Story

My name is Jennifer, and I am a wife and mother of five. My youngest is eight years old.

In November 2020, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. This is a rare cancer-form called ALK-positive, caused by a genetic mutation. Currently, there is no cure.

Jennifer will shave her head to support ACRF.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, but only around 5% of lung cancers are ALK-Positive. Most people assume that all lung cancers are caused by smoking. But this is not true – and there’s no known correlation of ALK-positive lung cancer with smoking.

Cancer research has given me more time with my family, and I hope will allow me to watch my children grow up. For someone like me, the more money raised means the more time my children will have me in their lives. Like millions of other women, I just want to be here to watch them grow.

That’s why I’m taking on the ACRF Hair Dare and shaving my head.

Research is so important to the families who have had their lives changed by a cancer diagnosis. No one is immune, cancer does not discriminate, research is the only way.

To donate to Jennifer’s Hair Dare visit https://shave.acrf.com.au/fundraisers/jenniferfarrell

Rebecca’s Story

Rebecca Darling is Mum to three teenagers, and on 24 March 2020, she was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer. The very next day after diagnosis, before she had time to digest the news, Rebecca met with her thyroid surgeon to discuss surgery. 

On the 6th April, Rebecca was admitted to hospital and underwent a total thyroidectomy and a central neck dissection. 

Unfortunately, on the 7th April, Rebecca’s arm swelled and a large lump appeared on her neck and she was diagnosed with a rare condition called Chyle Leak. Rebecca underwent surgery again that was not successful, and a haematologist was called in to assess her. 

On the 9th April, Rebecca underwent her third surgery in four days. She went through a harrowing and difficult process which required a tube to be inserted into her ribs to drain fluid. Rebecca was in intensive care for 11 days then underwent injections 5 times a day for months as well as taking numerous medications and undergoing a strict diet. 

Thanks to research and the surgeons and specialists, Rebecca has recovered from surgery, completed radiation and is looking forward to a brighter future. 

Through it all, Rebecca’s 15 -year old daughter and 13-year old son were there to support her. “I have amazing children who have been my rock through my cancer diagnosis,” Rebecca says. 

In September 2020, Rebecca and her daughter, Ebony, shaved their heads and her son and older daughter dyed their hair blue, the nominated colour for thyroid cancer awareness as part of the ACRF Hair Dare. The family raised over $1500 for cancer research. 

In Honor of Ron

Naomi Scott-Lumb was devastated when she heard that her friend Ron had been diagnosed with cancer

“Ron was one of the most genuine, funny, loving and kind-hearted people I’ve known,” Naomi says. “He was a natural-born protector as he demonstrated through his work in crowd control and with the SES, pulling on the orange suit to help those in need.” 

In June 2020, Ron was experiencing stomach aches and after some investigation, was diagnosed with cancer. He started treatment but this was unsuccessful and heartbreakingly, after just a few short months, Ron passed away. 

“The cancer took Ron from this world and from all of those that knew and loved him” Naomi says. “There is so much more that needs to be done in the world of cancer research and treatments. It breaks my heart that I couldn’t take away Ron’s pain, but one thing I could do was shave my head and raise much-needed funds, in the hope that it will help ease someone else’s pain and lead to more cures in the future.” 

Naomi reached out to her friends, family and colleagues and has raised an incredible $5,154 for cancer research, before shaving her head. 

A huge thank you to Naomi and all her supporters. As Naomi says of Ron “the world lost one of the greats.” 

Penny & Ellen Shave for Cancer Research

Penny is Ellen’s music teacher at school and lost her mother to cancer last year. She has had long hair for most of her life, and as a tribute to the beautiful person her mother was, she decided to chop her beautiful hair and raise money for cancer research.

Ellen, her student, being the caring soul she is, decided to do the chop with her.

“We are cutting our hair for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation for all those who have, are and who are about to face cancer. We are joining forces together because we believe a world without cancer is possible.”

World-first discovery about leukaemia

A team of Australian scientists has become the first in the world to discover a way to target leukaemic cancer cells that are able to “hide’’ from chemotherapy and cause the cancer to relapse. Targeting these cells has the potential to cure leukaemias.

The team’s findings on using a process called “endocytosis inhibition” as a novel treatment for chemotherapy-resistant leukemia, were published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications this week (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20091-6).

While traditional chemotherapy targets the cancer, it fails to kill certain leukaemic cells known as leukaemia stem cells and pre-leukaemia cells which can lead to the cancer relapsing in about 20 per cent of patients. These cells resist chemotherapy by hiding in safe microenvironments in the body and through their ability to self-renew, due to specific signalling pathways both on and inside these cells.

The new research reveals that leukemia’s self-renewal process can be blocked using compounds known as endocytosis inhibitors.

The team showed that treating chemotherapy-resistant leukaemia cells with traditional chemotherapy combined with an endocytosis-blocking novel inhibitor compound – led to leukemia stem cells and pre-leukaemia cells losing the ability to self-renew.

The cells no longer survived the chemotherapy treatment, and were unable to initiate tumour recurrence after treatment finished.

The research focused on chemotherapy-resistant T-Cell Lymphocytic Leukaemia (T-ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). The next step is to develop a version of the endocytosis inhibitor compound that will be safe and effective as a drug for human trials.

The team was led by Dr Cedric Tremblay from Monash University’s Australian Centre for Blood Diseases and the endocytosis inhibitor was designed by Professor Adam McCluskey from the University of Newcastle. Professor Phil Robinson from Children’s Medical Research Institute in Sydney who has been working in cell signalling for more than 25 years, was a co-author.

“Our strategy is shifting the paradigm in leukemia treatment and has the potential to reverse chemotherapy resistance and deliver significant benefits to patients,’’ Professor Robinson said.

He continued, “when leukaemia comes back, it is harder to stop – that is the problem we’re dealing with. This research shows that the cancer’s recurrence could be prevented by using these inhibitors combined with chemotherapy. It has really been transformative, but now we have to work out a way to deliver this in humans.”

The researchers also hope that using the two tools to fight cancer may reduce treatment time, which will improve patient well-being and save on health care costs.

“Does it reduce the time needed on chemotherapy? This is one of the questions we want to look at now’’ said Professor Robinson.

He is excited about the lessons this research could have for other conditions.

“This is such an important strategy that could apply to multiple disorders.”

His team is now interested in how blocking a broad array of cell signalling pathways by endocytosis inhibition could be applied to conditions such as epilepsy, neuropathic (nerve) pain and potentially as anti-viral drugs targeting HIV or the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

This article originally appeared on the Children’s Medical Research Institute website. ACRF has given CMRI four grants totalling $8.6 million for cancer research, including one of our 2020 grants.

New therapeutic target pinpointed for stomach cancer

WEHI researchers have identified a key molecular regulator involved in the progression and spread of stomach cancer, suggesting a potential new approach to treat this devastating disease.
Smiling researcher
Dr Jun Ting Low was part of a research team investigating
how inflammatory signalling proteins drive stomach cancer

The team discovered that removing the inflammatory signalling protein TNF in a laboratory model prevented early-stage stomach cancers from progressing to a more severe stage that, in humans, is much harder to treat. This discovery suggests that stomach cancers may respond to medicines that inhibit TNF. Of note, drugs that inhibit TNF have already shown success in the clinic for certain other diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.

The research, published in the journal Gastroenterology, was led by Dr Lorraine O’Reilly, Dr Tracy Putoczki, Professor Andreas Strasser, Dr Jun Ting Low and Dr Michael Christie, who is also a clinical pathologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

At a glance

  • Stomach cancer is often diagnosed at advanced, hard-to-treat stages – and better treatments are urgently needed.
  • Using a laboratory model, our researchers revealed that the inflammatory signalling protein TNF is required for stomach cancer to develop and progress to an advanced, invasive stage.
  • This discovery suggests that medicines that inhibit TNF – which are already in clinical use for other diseases – may be an effective new treatment for stomach cancer.

Pinpointing the culprits

Researchers in the laboratory
Dr Lorraine O’Reilly (L) and Dr Tracy Putoczki (R)
led the research which revealed a potential new approach
to treating stomach cancer.

More than one million people around the world – including more than 2000 Australians – are diagnosed with stomach cancer each year. This cancer is often detected late, at hard-to-treat stages, with fewer than one-third of Australians with stomach cancer surviving for five years after their diagnosis.

Understanding which factors are important for stomach cancer to develop and progress to invasive stages could lead to much-needed better treatments. To do this, the research team used a laboratory model of stomach cancer that they had developed, Dr O’Reilly said.

“Human stomach cancer can be caused by prolonged inflammation and our model of stomach cancer, that is driven by the absence of the protein NF-KB1, accurately reflects the sequential changes seen in human stomach cancer as it progresses from an early, inflammatory stage.

“We discovered that invasive stomach cancers contain high levels of various factors involved in inflammation, including four soluble proteins called cytokines.

“By removing each of the four cytokines that were elevated in our model, we could assess how important each one was. This revealed that the cytokine TNF was required for the progression of stomach cancer,” she said.

Potential new therapies

The discovery that TNF is a critical driver of stomach cancer development raised the possibility of this cytokine being a potential therapeutic target, Dr Putoczki said.

“Many therapies have shown great promise in treating inflammatory diseases by targeting specific cytokines,” she said. “Excitingly, there are already medicines in clinical use that block TNF, most notably for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

“Our research suggests these therapies could be an effective and safe way to prevent the progression of stomach cancer to more severe, invasive forms. This is an area we are looking at in more detail.”

This article originally appeared on the WEHI website. ACRF has given WEHI $9 Million for four cutting-edge cancer research.

Shaving for Frankie

Little Frankie is still in kindergarten but already knows what it is like to undergo chemotherapy and to lose your hair, after being diagnosed with Leukaemia. 

Frankie’s family wanted to do something to support cancer research, so they decided to cut and shave their hair for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF). Mum Elyse, Dad Josh and even baby Juno decided to take on the challenge. 

Frankie, the inspiration for the headshave

When Frankie heard the news, she said “We’ll all look like babies!” 

Frankie’s Mum, Elyse, said “Frankie is still feeling fancy with the little bit of hair that she has left but this too will soon go, and we would shave our heads a thousand times to make her feel even a little bit more ok with it, although she is taking it in her stride like the brave little queen she is. 

The ACRF goal of Zero Childhood Cancer is obviously especially close to our hearts. Watching our kinder kid go through chemotherapy is heart breaking, as is seeing babies, toddlers and school kids going through it alongside her” Elyse continued. “I’m sure all of us wish we could do something in some way to help any child with cancer on their journey.” 

The family has raised an incredible $18,911 and Mum Elyse donated her hair as well. Frankie also popped her little ponytail in the post bag, hoping to help another child like her. 

“Science has given Frankie a fighting chance to ‘kick leukaemia in the butt’ as a little friend of Frankie’s wrote to us,” Elyse says. “Thank you to everyone who is cutting, colouring or shaving their hair for cancer research and for raising money to support the scientists that have given Frankie this chance at life, which to us, is priceless.” 

Why I Support ACRF: Andrew

“Hi, my name is Andrew Czarnecki and I co-own a Bus, Touring and Charter Business in the South East suburbs of Melbourne. My business partner and I have operated the company for 25 years.  

“A number of years ago, I was looking for a worthy charity to donate money to. The tax benefit was appealing. I believe firmly that scientists, doctors and researchers use dollars more effectively than any government and that the rewards of their labour benefit society far more.

“I looked at a number of charities and ACRF stood out in the crowd due to the way they engage with their donors. I have supported them ever since.

“I am thankful I have never been diagnosed with any cancer nor have my family members. However, a close friend of mine lost his young brother to Pancreatic cancer and seeing how devastating this disease can be really upset me. 

“I also support ACRF due to the fact that Australia has the world’s highest recorded cases of skin cancer, especially amongst the younger of our community. I want to see if we can create real change through research.

“If you have any spare dollars, I’m sure your donation would be gratefully appreciated by ACRF no matter how big or small. It would give you a great sense of pride and wellbeing, knowing your contribution may help save somebody’s life or will help someone in need.”

If you would like to financially support the work of ACRF go to https://www.acrf.com.au/donate/

Lynn Moffitt: Loyal ACRF supporter and Bequestor

When Lynn Moffitt (above, left) lost her twin sister Jean to Ovarian cancer in January 1993, she looked for a way to honour her sister’s memory. She researched cancer organisations and was impressed by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF). 

“I called ACRF, made my first donation and I liked what I heard so I asked if they needed volunteers? 

In 1995, soon after I retired, I became ACRF’s very first volunteer in their Redfern office. 

“The office was so small back then, with a tiny team of three staff plus me, all crammed in. I got to know them all and it has been wonderful to watch ACRF grow and see all the amazing advancements in cancer research.  

“In 2003 my husband Ron and I moved from Sydney to Port Stephens to retire. I still wanted to volunteer for ACRF so I drove to Sydney once a month. Sadly, in 2005, Ron passed away unexpectedly from bowel cancer. For me, this underlined the importance of supporting ACRF. More than ever I valued their work and looked forward to reading the newsletters and learning about all the great research.  

“In 2007, I met my partner Larry at my local Probus Club. We had a lovely partnership and he too became a loyal ACRF supporter. We both enjoyed attending the Chairman’s Dinner each year, seeing the scientists receive their research grants.  

“The very last Chairman’s dinner Larry and I attended together, Larry was going through treatment for Multiple Myeloma. We were both so thrilled to be sat at a table with an amazing young scientist whose work focused on Multiple Myeloma. There isn’t a lot known about this cancer, so we were excited to see him receive a grant for the great work he was doing.   

In April 2017, after ten wonderful years together, Larry too passed from his cancer.  

“Cancer has taken so many of my family members, I am so grateful for the work of ACRF.  

“The work ACRF does gives me great comfort and I am very proud to say that I have shown my commitment to ACRF by including a gift in my Will. It is my strong belief that the real cure for cancer is just around the corner and I trust that my legacy will make a difference in the future.   

“These days I can’t travel to Sydney regularly, but I am a monthly regular giver and look forward to reading the ACRF newsletters which always include promising outcomes in cancer research.  

“I was thrilled when ACRF sent a speaker to Port Stephens to address my Probus and Rotary Clubs and my U3A group, about recent outcomes in cancer research. It was wonderful for my peers to hear first-hand all the good work ACRF is doing. 

“Mine is only one story, but I am sure it resonates with many families touched by cancer.  I believe the only way to ensure we get on top of this disease is through funding more research. No matter the size of your donation or your bequest, if it is going to ACRF, it will be put to very good use.”

Each year, ACRF hosts Wills Days for those needing to create a Simple Will. For more information about ACRF Wills Days or leaving a bequest to ACRF, please contact Lee Christian: 02 9223 7833 or email Lchristian@acrf.com.au 

Innovative research centre to image ‘dark space’ of cancer

The ACRF INCITe Centre will enable researchers to see immune cells and molecules move and interact below the surface of tumours and deep inside tissues.

A $3M grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation will establish a custom-built microscopy centre to image the ‘dark space’ of cancer-immune interactions, which will enable new advances in cancer research.

Based at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the ACRF Centre for Intravital Imaging of Niches for Cancer Immune Therapy (ACRF INCITe Centre) will house two Australian-designed microscopes. This will enable researchers to see immune cells and molecules at the cancer site move and interact in real time – below the surface of tumours and deep inside tissues.

The ACRF INCITe Centre will address a major challenge in the treatment of cancer: why some patients respond to immunotherapies, designed to arm the immune system against cancer, while others do not.

“Cancers hide from the immune system in highly complex and dynamic environments that can’t be visualised by conventional microscopes,” says Chief Investigator Professor Tri Phan from the Garvan Institute. “The custom-built microscopes in the ACRF INCITe Centre will overcome the current limitations and allow us to finally answer questions that we have not been able to address before. Our goal is to make a promising cancer therapy even more effective for patients.”

“Never in ACRF’s history has backing bold ideas for cancer research been more crucial. We are proud to announce funding of this world-leading Australian research centre today to enable new discoveries that will lead to better patient outcomes,” says ACRF’s CEO Kerry Strydom.

Bridging a gap in immunotherapy

Immunotherapy has greatly advanced cancer treatment over the past four decades and is highly effective for some cancer patients, including for half of those with advanced melanoma.

However, immunotherapy is effective in less than 30% of patients with advanced lymphoma, kidney, bladder and lung cancer, and for those affected by breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer, the treatment is rarely effective.

“For immunotherapy to be more effective, we need to bridge the gap in our understanding of how cancer cells interact with their local microenvironment to adapt to constantly changing conditions and how they evade immune destruction. These interactions are often short-lived and occur in sites that are inaccessible to visualisation by conventional microscopic techniques,” says Chief Investigator Associate Professor Marina Pajic, from the Garvan Institute.

Imaging beyond current limits

The ACRF INCITe Centre will enable researchers to see inside tumours at unprecedented temporal and spatial resolutions. “This is the first intravital imaging centre dedicated to studying cancer–immune cell interactions in vivo and at the molecular level. It will give us a comprehensive view of how the immune system can work to fight cancer,” says Chief Investigator Professor Paul Timpson, from the Garvan Institute.

Two custom microscopes housed at the INCITe Centre – the ‘EndoNICHEscope’ and ‘Molecular NICHEscope’ – will enable researchers to study living tumours inside mouse models, in real time.

The EndoNICHEscope will allow researchers to identify cancer and immune cells in previously inaccessible regions of tumours, using cutting-edge two-photon excitation imaging techniques, innovative adaptive optics technology and a minimally invasive microendoscope developed at the Australian National University by Chief Investigator Dr Steve Lee. The Molecular NICHEscope will image dynamic cancer-immune cell interactions and signalling events in unprecedented detail, in otherwise inaccessible organs such as the lung and pancreas, using a state-of-the-art FLIM detection unit and sophisticated image processing software.

World-leading collaboration

The INCITe Centre, scheduled to launch next year, unites an interdisciplinary team of world-class experts in cancer biology, physics and engineering at the Garvan Institute, the Australian National University, University of Technology Sydney, QIMR Berghofer, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, the Centre for Cancer Biology and Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute.

Collaborators from 23 research labs from across Australia will access the technology via a virtual network to investigate fundamental cancer biology, the role of cells, molecules and genes that regulate cancer-immune interactions, and new therapeutic approaches to enhance immunity against cancer.

The researchers will address crucial questions, such as how immune cells can be activated in a breast cancer, how cancer-immune interactions can be manipulated to target cancer cells lying dormant in niches of bones, and how cancer cells use ‘immune cloaking’ to stay undetected. 

“The vision of the Centre is to implement radical new imaging technologies to investigate and manipulate the cancer–immune cell interactions. Thanks to our extensive clinical connections, we plan to progress any new discoveries to clinical trials as quickly as possible,” says Professor Phan.

This article originally appeared on the Garvan Institute website. Garvan Institute was a recipient of one of our 2020 grants – read more about the $6 million of innovative funding awarded thanks to our supporters here.

Behind the Science 2020

Despite the challenges of 2020, we wanted to ensure that we could still all come together and celebrate the science and the work that’s been made possible thanks to our donors’ generosity. This year, our celebration was a virtual one, called Behind the Science.

Behind The Science showcased the projects awarded ACRF funding in 2020 and was hosted by comedian and mathematician Adam Spencer. Adam’s entertaining and understandable interviews with the amazing grant recipients unveiled their innovative ideas and explored the potential impact that these projects will have in advancing to a world without cancer. 

You can watch a recording from the evening below:

Improving Treatment for Metastatic Breast Cancer

Research led by Peter Mac is helping explain the broader effects of a new and powerful class of anti-cancer drugs, in the hope of making them work longer for breast cancer patients.

Cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK4/6) inhibitors have become a mainstay of treatment for metastatic breast cancer, though many patients eventually develop resistance.

Studies led by Dr Shom Goel have provided important insights into the broader activity of these drugs, which block key enzymes that breast cancer cells depend on.

“The main effect of these drugs is like a pulling handbrake, such that breast cancer cells stop dividing and enter a paused state that we call ‘senescence’,” says Dr Goel, a consultant oncologist and Group Leader in Peter Mac’s Cancer Research Division.

“Although CDK4/6 inhibitors drugs are very effective, they don’t kill cancer cells and for many patients, their effects can wane over time. There’s a great need to extend the window where these drugs provide good cancer control.”

The preclinical studies demonstrate for the first time that the inhibitor drugs – in addition to blocking cancer cell division – trigger widespread epigenetic changes in breast cancer cells.

For example, the cells developed new ways to avoid cell death (apoptosis) and became more visible to the immune system.

“These epigenetic changes completely transform the way the cancer cells look and behave,” says Dr Goel.

“And this new understanding is important because as the cells change, they develop new vulnerabilities that we can possibly exploit.

“For example, our research supports trialling CDK4/6 inhibitors in combination other treatments – such as immunotherapies or with new therapies designed to trigger cell death – and this could be how we achieve more durable responses.”

The research paper is titled “CDK4/6 inhibition reprograms the breast cancer enhancer landscape by stimulating AP-1 transcriptional activity”, and is published in the journal Nature Cancer. Read the paper in full here

This article originally appeared on the Peter Mac website here. ACRF has granted $10.8 Million to Peter MacCallum for cutting-edge cancer research technology, including one of our three 2020 grants.

Research Update: ACRF Breakthrough Technologies Laboratory

In 2014, our incredible supporters’ generosity allowed us to award $2.5 million to Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. The grant established the ACRF Breakthrough Technologies Laboratory, to analyse genetic mutations at the individual cell-level.

One of the technologies supported was CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat), which was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Highlights of Progress

In 2019, the ACRF Breakthrough Technologies Laboratory was integral to aspects of around 55 published investigations related to various types of cancers. 

Every year since 2015 approximately 67 staff and 10 students have used, accessed, or been involved in projects within the ACRF Breakthrough Technologies Laboratory.

The most significant finding so far has been the development of new chemotherapy combination strategies to target 413 genes potentially linked to colorectal cancer.

Research progress in 2019

Currently, there are two screens that are in development which will be run in parallel using the arrayed mouse whole genome CRISPR library. The first screen has been designed to identify genes that control neutrophil nuclear morphology. 

Neutrophils are the first leukocyte responders of the innate immune system, and have unique migratory and functional capabilities are largely impacted by their nuclear shape, composition and plasticity. A well defined, inducible model of neutrophil maturation will be used with high content confocal microscopy (Opera Phenix™) as the endpoint readout. 

The second screen in development is a synthetic lethal screen to identify targets that either sensitise cells or confer resistance to inhibition of the pro-survival protein MCL-1. Several potent and selective MCL-1 inhibitors are now in the clinic for the treatment of hematological malignancies and this study aims to help define improved strategies for cancer therapy. The screen design utilises the Intellicyt® iQue Screener PLUS, a high throughout, automated flow cytometer which enables analysis of suspension cell lines.

The Janus liquid handling platform continues to be used extensively to support multiple projects at WEHI. These include follow up studies from one of the first functional genomic screens performed to identify synthetic lethal combinations with standard of care therapeutics in colorectal cancer.

These studies have now been extended to include testing of patient-derived organoids. Following our discovery of BCL2 mutations as a cause of resistance to venetoclax in patients with chronic lymphcytic leukemia, we have been able to further explore resistance to Venetoclax using facilities within the ACRF Breakthrough Technologies Lab.

We have used mass cytometry (CyTOF) to make new discoveries in the mechanisms of resistance employed by blood cancers to resist treatment with targeted therapies. The in-kind support from WEHI established key reagents and analytical platforms for us to perform these experiments.

Multiple myeloma is the second most common blood cancer. Although most treatments can be effective, these almost always fail as the cancer changes to become resistant. We developed a new CyTOF approach to analyse the configuration of cell death proteins in millions of individual myeloma cells after they are exposed to cytotoxic treatments. This allowed us to visualise the “decision-making” process in these cells. We employed machine learning approaches to determine the most critical changes in predicting whether the cells live or die. We then tested these predictions using a new inhibitor of the survival protein, MCL-1, and found that it synergised potently to kill more myeloma cells than standard-of-care therapies. Indeed, myeloma cells taken directly from patients also responded better to this combination. These findings were recently published.

We have since developed our CyTOF platform for the analysis of patient samples in clinical trials. We know this approach has been effective in discovering resistance mechanisms in other blood cell cancers and are excited to apply them to multiple myeloma.

Our capacity in CyTOF analysis has also been applied to profiling immune cells in lung cancer specimens from patients. In unpublished work, we have made new insights into the types of immune cells implicated in frustrating the immune response to cancer. We are preparing these for publication and believe they will inform new treatment options to control metastasis.

Kristy takes on the Hair Dare

“My name is Kristy Schilling and I’m 38 years old.

I found my first benign tumour, a fibroadenoma when I was 28. Fibroadenomas are solid non-cancerous breast lumps that come, they go, they shrink, they grow. But I had regular ultrasounds, so all monitored and going ok

Then, earlier in 2020, one of my fibroadenomas started to hurt. No biggie, they change with hormones, it happens. Covid-19 had cancelled this year’s trips to China and Canada so I thought “meh. It hurts, I have time, I will see about getting this thing cut out So off to my GP for a referral.

In early July, I made a pit stop for an ultrasound and a biopsy, which confirmed once again it was a fibroadenoma, and I was set to see the specialist to talk about a quick lumpectomy.

On August 20 the breast specialist popped her ultrasound thingy on the lump and immediately scrunched her nose up and said “no, that biopsy is wrong”.

The following day I was biopsied from a different angle and on August 31 I had a mastectomy to remove a breast that we now knew had breast cancer.

Now, from the pathology report following the mastectomy, we see that the first biopsy was NOT wrong. Neither was the ultrasound. Indeed, I had the 3cm fibroadenoma that I was well aware of.

BUT what we did not know about until August was that this 3cm fibroadenoma was hiding both 48mm of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) AND 40mm of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma of cribriform morphology.

So, the pain I was feeling was probably the cancer outgrowing the benign tumour at a rapid rate.

Thankfully my surgeon spotted it and got it the heck outta there when she did, before it spread to my lymph nodes or beyond! So I had T2N0M0 early breast cancer.

This comes with a great prognosis if I follow the treatment.

So my next step is “the mop up job” where they give those with aggressively growing tumours a course of chemo to make sure that no sneaky cancer cells escaped to hide out in other parts of my body!

That’s where I have to give up my hair! I had my first of 4 AC treatments last week, AKA The Red Devil that takes everyone’s hair….soooo…we thought we would make the most of it and try and raise a bit of money for cancer research, because the reality is, my life was saved because the doctors knew what to do.

I cut my hair into a mullet, (the same one I had as a child!), then a mohawk and finally shaved my hair for ACRF.

I’m here because of research and thanks to research, my treatment should ensure that I will still be here afterwards, with my family and loved ones.”

ACRF would like to thank Kristy for her generous support and wish her all the best for her treatment. If you feel inspired by Kristy’s boldness and would like to take on the Hair Dare, sign up here!

The Read Family

Parents never expect their child to predecease them, but that is what happened to Janice and Peter Read.  Just three weeks before his 55th birthday, on the 2nd April 2018, their son Darren died. It was 52 days from diagnosis to his passing.  Peter Read tells the story of his sons’ diagnosis and passing from cancer.

“Our son Darren and his wife Karyn had just returned home to Melbourne in October 2017, from a fabulous holiday in Canada, when Darren’s symptoms appeared.“  

“Darren experienced feelings of intense lethargy, so much that he couldn’t focus at work. He firstly attributed the tiredness to a busy holiday schedule followed by a busy Christmas 2017.  

“Straight after Christmas 2017, Darren noticed numerous small lumps under his left arm and in his upper chest. He went straight to the GP who carried out biopsies on the lumps. The results showed the lumps were melanomas.  

From January 2018 onwards, Darren & Karyn’s life changed dramatically. 

“Darren underwent further tests and treatments and learned the melanomas had metastasised to Darren’s brain.  He underwent brain surgery on 20 February 2018. 

Karyn and Darren

“Regrettably, only 3 of 5 melanoma’s were able to be removed from Darren’s brain. It was hoped following recovery after the surgery, he could commence radiotherapy then immunotherapy to shrink the remaining melanomas. 

“Disappointingly, after one week of radiotherapy treatment, Darren deteriorated rapidly. Further tests revealed the melanomas had spread even further throughout his body and showed even more vigorous development in his brain.  

Mr Read said the neurosurgeons and oncologists all agreed further surgery was not recommended. In late March 2018, Darren was transferred to palliative care where he passed eight days later.  

Mr & Mrs Read spent two and half months prior to Darren’s death travelling from Adelaide to Melbourne, trying to process what was happening, while trying to support Karyn and spend precious time with Darren.  

“Sadly, during this time, Darren exhibited the full effect of what brain cancer can do. Darren just wasn’t himself. Typical of patients with Melanomas’ that metastasise to the brain, his behaviour became illogical and erratic, before he lapsed into a coma and passed three days later,” Mr Read said.  

 “The most difficult aspect was knowing there was nothing that could be done to help Darren other than be with him.  

“Our son’s death from cancer was, and still is, extremely painful for all of us, his wife, and his sister included. The speed with which events transpired, from diagnosis to his passing was almost too much to grasp.  

“Today, we sincerely sympathise with those who have lost loved ones to cancer, and we are so grateful for the work of organisations like ACRF for their work funding research across Australia, for all cancers. “

Honouring special supporter Holly Smith

This month we honour Holly Smith, a loyal and dedicated supporter whose spirit touched so many people. Holly passed away, aged 89. She has been a loyal and committed supporter of ACRF since 2006.  

Lee Christian, our Planned Giving Manager, reflects on getting to know Holly, her support, and their friendship.  

“I will remember Holly as being, quirky and hilarious and inspiring.

“Holly was an adventurer, a teacher, a writer and a lifelong learner. In her later years, she became a generous philanthropist, supporting among many other causes, cancer research.  

“Holly survived ovarian cancer and said that she was grateful for what the experience had taught her.  

“Despite this, she always lived life to the fullest. Growing up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Holly loved to swim and was a regular at Avalon Beach baths. While she had no children of her own, she was a much-loved Kindergarten teacher with a career that spanned some 40 years across several Northern Beaches schools. In Avalon, she was one of the four founding teachers at the primary school. In 1972, Holly was commissioned to write a children’s textbook on metric conversion. Later in her retirement, she wrote and edited children’s books.  

“Among Holly’s many interests was Egyptology and she travelled there and even spent time meditating in a tomb. More recently she very tentatively shared with me her belief in extra-terrestrials. She wrote a book about this which a friend put online and Holly generously nominated ACRF to receive a percentage of the profits.  

“Holly was always great company. In recent years after several strokes had slowed her down, I still looked forward to our catch-ups,” says Lee.  “One day, during her birthday lunch at Avalon Surf Club, as we both looked out at the beach, I mentioned how enticing the water looked. Quick as a wink, Holly responded: ‘Well let’s go skinny-dipping then!’. Her adventurous spirit was always there!”

Holly  will be missed by many, including an eclectic community of friends who were her ‘family’ and to whom she was generous with her time and energy. 

Holly and Lee

ACRF is humbled to be remembered in Holly’s Will.  She knew that her decision to leave a legacy to cancer research will positively impact generations to come.  

To discuss including a gift in your Will to ACRF, please contact Lee Christian on 02 9223 7833 or bequest@acrf.com.au

Research Update: The ACRF Cancer Ultrasound and Function Facility

In 2016, thanks to the generosity of our dedicated supporters, The Institute for Molecular Bioscience located in Queensland was awarded a grant for $2.3 Million to establish the ARCF Cancer Ultrastructure and Function Facility (ACRF CUFF).

We are pleased to share with you a research update from the facility, to share the incredible cancer research that has taken place since this grant was awarded. 

The ACRF CUFF contains complementary state-of-the-art equipment for examining the 3D ultrastructure of cancer cells, using the newest microscopes and high-performance computing for laser imaging of live cells. 

Throughout 2019, a growing number of users from UQ and from other universities, hospitals and institutes around Australia made use of ACRF CUFF for biomedical research aimed at understanding cancer biology, developing drugs and establishing new models for cancer research. 

Cancer cell ultrastructure in 3D. By tomographic reconstructions of large numbers of ultrathin microscopic ‘slices’ cell features can be visualized in 3 dimensions in exquisite detail. In this example researchers can depict and measure specific cell endosomal compartments (pink, blue, green) and view the cell’s fluid environment or cytoplasm. Visualizing and measuring these compartments helps to understand the nature of cellular changes that occur during the transformation from normal cells to cancer cells. Such imaging can also reveal the cellular changes introduced by experimental gene editing, or with immune-based or chemotherapy treatments. Image Darren Brown IMB.

Impact Amplified

Importantly, ACRF CUFF continues to leverage further funding and support for cancer research. 

New cancer research groups and talented new group leaders have been recruited to IMB, attracted by the state-of-the-art equipment in ACRF CUFF. 

New capabilities for cancer research are created by using ACRF CUFF for training courses and promotion of the latest microscopy technologies and a highlight of the year saw ACRF CUFF hosting events and courses for microscopy professionals and researchers from throughout Australia. 

A substantial amount of competitive grant and fellowship funding was awarded in 2019 to groups using ACRF CUFF. 

The facility seeks to expand public interest and support for cancer research by hosting tours and public events. 

Finally, further expansion of the ACRF CUFF facility itself was made possible by additional internal and external equipment funding as the facility continues to keep abreast of the latest technological and scientific developments. 

This facility – a much-acclaimed legacy of the generosity of ACRF supporters – continues to be a source of exciting capacity for discovery and development in cancer research, supporting the work of a growing number of dedicated researchers, clinicians and trainees. The research outputs from ACRF CUFF are enthusiastically tracked by scientists, clinicians and the public through the scientific literature, conferences and social media. 

Leica SP8 Confocal – STED, Falcon, Lightning, Resonant Scanning

Research Update: ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment was officially opened on 4 October 2019 and is used by researchers of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) and La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science (LIMS) to examine how cancer cells interact with neighbouring populations to create micro-environments supportive of tumour development. 

Insights into enhancing our ability to disrupt and treat these interactions are provided by imaging machines including Multiphoton and Confocal Microscopes, and a NanoString Molecular Barcoding Scanner. 

Since the first piece of instrument was commissioned in late September 2018, more than 40 individual researchers from five Melbourne Research Institutions have utilised the equipment and research support provided by the Facility at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute. 

Over the course of this reporting period, the ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment has commissioned the first Next Generation Zeiss Multiphoton microscope in Australia, as well as the Next Generation Zeiss Inverted Confocal platforms, cementing the Facility as a world-wide state-of-the-art imaging centre for our research teams. This research is only possible thanks to people like yourself, who have generously given to help outsmart cancer.

Vision for ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment: 

  1. To enable cancer researchers and clinicians at the ONJCRI and its partners at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) and the immediate Austin Health precinct to perform cutting edge characterisation of interactions between tumour cells and the tumour microenvironment. 
  2. To exploit with advanced microscopy one of Australia’s largest existing portfolios of novel therapeutic reagents targeting the tumour microenvironment. 

World-class cancer research equipment funded by the generosity of our supporters.

Projects undertaken within the ACRF Centre: 

The following cancer research teams and Institutes are using the ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment. 

• Cancer and Inflammation Laboratory, ONJCRI (gastric cancer

• Cancer Immuno-Biology Laboratory, ONJCRI (melanoma) 

• Matrix Microenvironment & Metastasis Laboratory, ONJCRI (breast cancer

• Metastasis Research Laboratory, ONJCRI (breast cancer

• Oncogenic Transcription Laboratory, ONJCRI (colorectal cancer

• Receptor Biology Laboratory, ONJCRI (prostate and colorectal cancer) 

• Tumour Progression and Heterogeneity Lab, ONJCRI (breast cancer

• Tumour Targeting Laboratory, ONJCRI (brain, breast, colorectal cancer

• Humbert Laboratory, La Trobe University (breast cancer

• Hannan Laboratory, Mercy Hospital for Women (pre-eclampsia) 

• Lewin and Cameron Laboratory, Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (HIV anti-retrovirus resistance) 

• University of Melbourne Department of Surgery (liver cancer

Pale melanomas masked by albino gene

People with pale coloured melanomas are more likely to have a gene mutation associated with albinism, University of Queensland research has found.

Study lead author Dr Jenna Rayner said albinism, a rare genetic disorder affecting one in 10,000 people, prevented brown pigment from being synthesised in the body and led to fair hair and extremely pale skin that was easily sunburned and prone to skin cancers.

“Albinism develops when there are two mutated genes, so people with one mutation usually don’t know they have it,” Dr Rayner said.

“These people may be more prone to developing pale coloured melanomas, called amelanotic, because tumours accumulate new mutations, and they already have a mutated albinism gene.”

The researchers studied DNA samples from more than 380 volunteers using whole exome sequencing, while looking for rare genetic mutations that cause albinism.

Queensland has the highest rate of melanoma in the world and more than 14,000 cases are diagnosed in Australia each year.

UQ Dermatology Research Centre Associate Professor Rick Sturm said up to eight per cent of melanomas could be amelanotic, making them difficult to diagnose and easily mistaken for non-cancerous conditions like warts or scars.

“Amelanotic melanomas are normally diagnosed in advanced stage, compared with darker melanomas, causing patients to often miss out on early treatment and their best chance of a cure,” he said.

When funding becomes available, researchers plan to collect amelanotic melanoma samples to compare their genotype with that of the patient.

Dr Rayner said it could lead to personalised medicine – where doctors would be alerted to monitor potential amelanotic melanomas in people with one albinism gene mutation.

“This could optimise early intervention and consequently improve patient outcomes,” she said.

This research has been conducted as part of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence for the Study of Naevi.

This article originally appeared on the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute website. ACRF has granted $16.1 million to the Diamantina Institute for cutting-edge cancer research, including our 2019 major grant for Melanoma research.

Fresh tumour biopsies in world-first technique for cancer treatments

An innovative technique to improve cancer treatments using tumour biopsies less than 30 minutes after they’re taken has been developed at The University of Queensland.  

The ‘Drug uptake in ex Vivo tumours’ technique was developed after researchers found fresh patient tumour biopsies responded differently to treatments than the tissue cultures traditionally used.

Its inventor, UQ Diamantina Institute’s Dr Fiona Simpson, said it could be used to show how long antibodies stayed active in patients, or when antibodies were taken into the tumour where they’re destroyed.

“The technique will significantly help pharmaceutical and technology companies design future cancer drugs,” Dr Simpson said.

“Until now, scientists have only looked at how cancer drugs interact with tissue culture, not fresh tumours.

“Applying medications to tissue culture doesn’t always work because the immune system responds differently in a body.

“I thought it was pretty obvious that we should test cancer drugs on actual tumours, but people kept telling my research team that it wouldn’t work!”

The technique includes a step-by-step process to help drug companies and researchers better understand how drugs interact with patients, and respond to targeted treatments.

“We’ve created a comprehensive process, including detailed videos on tumour extraction and drug-testing processes, for researchers around the world to use,” she said.

“The technique is useful for all types of cancers, and we’re very excited about its possibilities.”

The research was published in Cell Press’ STAR Protocols.

This article originally appeared on the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute website. ACRF has granted $16.1 million to the Diamantina Institute for cutting-edge cancer research.

Blocking copper uptake in tumour cells may be clue to boosting immune system – fighting the deadliest of cancers

Australian researchers have discovered how an affordable and currently available drug – which removes copper from the blood can destroy some of the deadliest cancers that are resistant to immunotherapy.

While immunotherapy, a treatment that works through a patient’s immune system to kill the cancers, has proven to be a breakthrough for many cancer patients, offering real hope and for some even a cure – some cancers camouflage themselves from current immunotherapies by expressing the aptly titled Programmed Death Ligand or PD-L1.

Dr Orazio Vittorio and his team from Children’s Cancer Institute in Sydney and UNSW Sydney published the findings today in the prestigious journal, Cancer Research.

It is known that cancer cells such as brain cancer “feed” on copper, often having up to six times the normal levels of the metal inside the tumour cells. Dr Vittorio and colleagues, including Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, studied tumour samples from more than 90 patients with neuroblastoma and 90 patients with gliomas. Both these cancers have high mortality rates and to date have not responded well to cancer immunotherapy. Neuroblastoma accounts for 15% of total childhood cancer deaths and only 50% of patients with high-risk neuroblastoma patient survive their disease. Glioblastoma has the worst survival rate of all cancers, with only 5% of patients surviving 5 years past their diagnosis.

According to Dr Vittorio, these two cancers express PD-L1 as a way to hide from the immune system, explaining why these two cancers are so deadly.

By looking at the human biopsies the researchers found a correlation between high levels of copper and increased expression of PD-L1, “indicating that the PD-L1 is upregulated in cancer cells, thereby allowing them to hide from the immune system, through the increased absorption of copper,” he said.

The researchers went on to use an analogue of a drug, called TETA, that is currently used in the treatment of Wilson’s Disease, which is a rare genetic disorder characterized by excess copper stored in various body tissues. They used this drug in animal models of neuroblastoma and glioblastoma to reduce the amount to copper in the tumour cells, leading to a reduction in the expression of PD-L1.

“When these mice were given immunotherapy there was a significant reduction in the size of their tumours,” Dr Vittorio said.

“Given that TETA is already in use in a number of clinical conditions and it is inexpensive and easy to manufacture, this may offer a viable treatment alternative for those cancers that are resistant to current immunotherapies.”

This collaborative includes: Children’s Cancer Institute, UNSW Sydney, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, University of Bologna.

This article originally appeared on the Children’s Cancer Institute website. ACRF has granted $8.6 million in grants to Children’s Cancer Institute for the prevention, detection and treatment of childhood Cancers.

ACRF Research Update: September

At this webinar, you will hear from three Children’s Cancer Institute scientists who, thanks to your support, are working hard to find better ways to detect and treat Children’s Cancers. These scientists are:

Associate Professor Paul Ekert, Translational Tumour Biology Group Leader of the Children’s Cancer Institute, who is developing a new research program to apply some of the novel findings of Zero Childhood Cancer to better understand the biology of tumours and how gene changes cause cancer.

Dr Fatima Valdes Mora, Team Leader, Cancer Epigenetic Biology and Therapeutics, Children’s Cancer Institute. Dr Valdes Mora’s team aim to understand the molecular mechanisms that cancer cells hijack to become malignant, and then apply this knowledge to the design of novel epigenetic-based therapies.

Dr Emmy Fleuren, a senior scientist working within the Translational Tumour Biology group at Children’s Cancer Institute, Dr Fleuren leads the research on identifying novel therapeutic targets in sarcoma – a very diverse group of cancers that affect the connective/supportive tissues of the body, including bones, muscles and fat.

To attend our next research update webinar, please email zoom@acrf.com.au.

Research Update: The ACRF Detector

In 2015, thanks to the generosity of people like yourself, ACRF awarded $2 million to the Australian Synchrotron for the creation of the ACRF Detector.

The ACRF Detector would enable the shape and function of proteins to be analysed on the Australian Synchrotron’s Micro Crystallography (MX2) beamline, in a fraction of the time taken. This would mean a ten-fold increase in capacity, crucial to accelerating cancer drug development.

The brilliant light of the MX2 beamline allows researchers to investigate the arrangement and activity of molecules in cancer cells (and cancer treatments) at a level of detail that is not possible at any other Australian research facility. Your support has enabled not only more research to take place, but the production of data of greater accuracy and quality. 

This means researchers will gain answers much faster, shortening the time from laboratory research to clinical trial, which tests the performance of new cancer drugs. In the last year, the Detector has been revolutionary for the MX2 Beamline at the Australian Synchrotron.

ACRF assess each grant we give based on anticipated future impact of the projects, to ensure every dollar donated generously by people like you makes the biggest difference possible to cancer research. 

We use four categories to do this. These include the human impact – the direct health benefits to people with cancer, the societal impact – the benefits to carers, family members and broader society, the intellectual impact – or the new knowledge, outcomes, jobs and research, and the leverage impact – or how the institute can snowball further funds from our initial investment. 

We are so pleased to see this project excel in each of these impact categories, and go even further. Recently, a team of Monash University researchers have used the facility to determine the 3D-structure of a SARS-CoV-2 protein at atomic resolution. These structures could potentially be used in drug screening and in targeted experiments to disrupt the replication of the COVID-19 Virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has called for unprecedented research to be conducted into viruses. Although the focus of the research we fund will always be cancer, we’re proud that the contribution of our community will help save more lives during this pandemic. 

Together we can outsmart cancer, because of talented researchers such as these, and people like you. Thank you for entrusting us with your donations, and helping to make impact on the lives of people affected by cancer every day. 

Behind the Scenes: Meet Alicia

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Meet Alicia Pragastis, who is our Marketing and Communications Coordinator.

“I have been with ACRF for almost two years, and I love the different challenges my role brings. In a single day, I can go from designing collateral to writing a press release and then creating automating email journeys. I also pull together the newsletter each month, so hello from behind the scenes! 

I love to communicate with our donors and let them know how special each of them is. Your generosity really does help save lives and without you, there would be no ACRF.

When I’m not working, I love to spend time with my dogs, Toby and Deigo. I also am also passionate about cooking and travelling. I’ve been very lucky to have been to a few off-the-beaten-track places and some of my favourites have been Iran, Guatemala and Borneo. Learning about different cultures and connecting with people around the world is really important. 

Even though at the moment things are tough, I’m glad to see people still connecting and supporting each other where we can. Thank you all for standing with us.”

Behind the Scenes: Meet Svenja

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Meet Svenja Steffen, who looks after our Corporate Partnerships.

“My work has always been very important to me and something that I put a lot of effort and time into, but since I started working for ACRF in October last year, I feel my professional career has fallen into place.

I love finding new ways of growing ACRF’s corporate partnerships as well as connecting with our supporters on a more personal level. I am passionate about creating opportunities for businesses and their teams to make an impact to a better future.

Outside of work I spend a lot of time at the South East Equestrian Club in Malabar where I ride, volunteer with barn chores and spend quality time with my friends, which quite often involves eating homemade cake while overlooking Malabar Headlands (a great spot to watch whales!).

I love Sydney’s beaches and even though I have been living here for five years by now, I still have to pinch myself every now and then when spending my lunch break at Maroubra beach, doing the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee or overlooking the city’s skyline in a distance from Camp Cove in Watsons Bay. Such blue skies, crystal clear waters and beautiful sand are still a holiday picture for me.

For me, one silver lining of the current pandemic is the progress to more flexibility and an output-focused approach from employers, which made me, and my partner Brandon decide to fulfil our shared dream of adding a Golden Retriever to our family. We are now proud fur parents of our beautiful and smart little lady, Maple.”

New hope for vulnerable bowel cancer patients

An innovative clinical research project coordinated by SAHMRI’s Precision Medicine Theme has revealed new avenues to attack bowel cancers that don’t respond to initial treatments. 

Dr Susan Woods co-led the project which was a multisite collaboration involving the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and was supported by Cancer Council SA’s Beat Cancer Project. 

Dr Woods, the leader of the Gut Cancer Group at SAHMRI and the University of Adelaide, says the project involved taking tumour samples from 19 metastatic bowel cancer patients and growing tumour cells for direct testing in the laboratory. 

“All cancers are a bit different, even though we group them together under broad headings like ‘bowel cancer’,” Dr Woods said. 

“Sadly, most of the patients included in our study will exhaust the treatment options available to them. By growing samples from each patient’s tumour, we can specifically test which drugs work best for their tumour.” 

This information was combined with a process called genomic sequencing to give the researchers a highly detailed profile of each cancer. The next step was to test whether pre-approved drugs could be effective against the tumours. 

“We selected drugs which hadn’t necessarily been used on bowel cancer before but had already been approved for human use for other conditions. That means that if any are found to be successful, we can use them to treat that patient almost straight away,” Dr Woods said. 

This process led to new treatment programs for two of the 19 patients, one of whom initially responded positively. 

“While that’s encouraging, from a broader perspective we’ve really only just scratched the surface of what might be possible,” Dr Woods said. 

“Here we have an innovative precision medicine approach that can present new treatment options for bowel cancer patients who have limited or no other options. 

“We’re hoping this work paves the way for a Phase II clinical trial. It’s likely these techniques could prove to be relevant for other solid cancers too.” 

The project also involved the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Cancer Voices SA and the US-based SEngine Precision Medicine and Columbia University Medical Centre. 

The findings were published today in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

This article originally appeared on the SAHMRI website. ACRF has granted $4.3 million to SAHMRI thanks to the generosity of our supporters for the prevention, detection and treatment of all types of cancer.

Research Update: The ACRF Molecular Oncology Translational Research Facility

The Molecular Oncology Translational Research Facility (MOTIF) was established in 2014 with an ACRF grant thanks to the support of our generous community. The centrepiece was a state-of-the-art PET-CT instrument, housed within the Herston Imaging Research Facility (HIRF) on the campus of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Research activity in non-invasive imaging of molecular aspects of cancer has continued to evolve throughout the last two years. With the initiation of new projects, at the end of 2019 there were 11 studies actively recruiting participants and a further 8 studies pending. The research conducted at HIRF has included research into new methods of targeting and diagnosing cancer metastases, including the potential for molecules to be the basis of both disease staging and therapy, the core idea of theranostics.

In addition, the facility continues to support innovative projects in other areas of medicine, notably in clinical neuroscience. Researchers affiliated with MOTIF have published 8 papers in 2018-19, including in high impact journals such as Annals of Oncology and Gut, with multiple presentations at international conferences heralding discoveries that will deliver future research outcomes. 

The Herston Imaging Research Facility and the UQ Centre for Clinical Research continue to promote MOTIF as a facility that provides advanced molecular imaging capabilities. The start of 2020 sees HIRF becoming a member of the Australian National Imaging Facility. This provides the facility significant investment in radiochemistry and molecular imaging capabilities locally, and major new opportunities for MOTIF.

This grant has had significant impact on both human health and scientific research outcomes. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, some of these include:

  • A clinical trial being undertaken targeting prostate cancer with the potential to improve both staging and providing information on the extent of metastases (the development of secondary cancerous growths). This could be a possible new treatment option for people with late-stage prostate cancer, with data showing the showing it is extremely well tolerated and provides benefit for considerably longer than other second-line treatments.
  • A second randomised trial brings together a team of oncologists, radiologists, radiochemists and nuclear medicine physicians to investigate late-stage prostate cancer treatment. 
  • A study to look at a new way of detecting the spread of pancreas cancer.
  • PET/CT and PET/MRI for radiation treatment planning in patients with head and neck cancer undergoing definitive radiation or chemo-radiation treatments.
  • Improving the quality of PET imaging of pulmonary nodules and lymph nodes to facilitate invasive and non-invasive assessment.

In summary, there are currently 27 cancer projects underway with 222 cancer participants. In 2018-2019 alone, 8 publications and 18 conference presentations featured outcomes from MOTIF. In additional to this, a further $7.7 million has been awarded to the facility from other sources since the seed funding provided by the initial grant. 

These innovative projects by some of the best minds in Australia will help find more effective, less invasive treatments for cancer – and your support has made this all possible. Thank you for standing with research, and understanding the value of helping to get these important ideas like these off the ground. It is the momentum we build through projects like these that bring us closer to finding better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. 

Jordy’s Story

We’re so pleased today to be officially launching a collaboration with the iconic Australian brand Budgy Smuggler – and releasing our very own ACRF Smugglers and Smugglettes! Turn heads whilst helping fund the boldest cancer research in Australia – shop them here.

Plus for the bravest of the brave – take on the Budgy Smuggler Winter Swim Challenge and Swim 2km over the month of August! Raise vital funds needed to help outsmart cancer. 

We’d like to thank Budgy Smuggler for this incredible opportunity and for their dedication and passion to making this collaboration a success.

Jordy Parsonage of Budgy Smuggler shares the story of how cancer has impacted her family below, and the motivation for supporting ACRF:

“To give full effect to this fundraising campaign I thought it would be most fitting to invite you all into a snapshot of our family and why this fantastic initiative is being brought to you today.

Our tight-knit family has been based in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney all my life. We are a sport-focused, sunshine-loving loud and motley crew. Like all families, this life has not been without struggles of illness affecting those I hold most dear.

Our beautiful lifestyle growing up by the beaches, spending prolonged hours in the sun, at sport or in the surf has resulted in multiple encounters with Skin Cancers within our family. After having a Melanoma scare at the young age of 15, I was rudely awoken to the ruthlessness of cancer.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 5fd70269421deff2961918d7cba393c8.jpg

Suddenly as I became more educated on the different branches of
cancer, my eyes were opened to just how many people I knew, and my family loved who were affected by these brutal battles.

Within our family, our Queensland based Poppy John passed away on my birthday the same year as my scare. After fighting so bravely for such a long time the heartbreak was felt by our family near and far, such a bubbly personality taken away too early. In the years to follow, my Mum and Aunty lost one of their closest childhood friends, leaving a distinct emptiness in their own lives.

As time has progressed I’ve witnessed the lives of so many fall at the feet of such horrible cancerous diseases, with them all, a sense of hopelessness
experienced by the ones they loved most.

Earlier this year our Poppy Kelly was diagnosed with advanced Prostate Cancer. For many reading this who know my Pop, they’d be completely unaware of this. It took him some
convincing to even let me write our families story as he “didn’t want to have the spotlight on him, as there are plenty of deserving people who should have their story shared”.

My pop is my inspiration story, he has lived a full life already achieving so much. He shares a beautiful marriage with my loving Nan, he raised some crazy children, including my legend of a mother, he has taken in and housed myself, my partner and beautiful son as we found our
feet, and supported so many others in their times of need. He is selfless and brave, he is always giving back to the community, and right now he is currently working relentlessly to beat this ugly disease. He is tough and I’m so proud of him.

This overwhelming feeling over helplessness I felt early in his diagnosis was overshadowed with determination when through work with Budgy Smuggler and their generous head office team (Thanks Bj & Molly), I was given the opportunity to seek a partnership with ACRF.

I was encouraged to drive a fundraising opportunity which I was truly passionate about.

Budgy Smuggler is an iconic and uniquely Aussie brand, espousing genuine care for the community. With such a wide and varying audience such a partnership has the potential to inform and engage a new demographic with ACRF. Through the power of networking these new viewers would have access to educational resources, stats, stories and most
importantly activities to generate donations and support for the cause.
The launch of the ACRF Budgy Smugglers is a bright initiative to bring a physical and fun aspect of the fundraising world. This in combination with the Active Challenges we launch are designed to attract maximum participation and engage with social media pages and followings.

In 2020 the more who see, the more who do. I hope that you are inspired, I’m sure for many of you our family story will resonate with experiences of your own. Unfortunately, cancer affects too many. Buy your Budgys, partake in the challenges, be brave and trust in the power of networking. Share your story, continue to educate yourself, navigate through the resources available here on this site, participate in challenges and share on your social media accounts, encourage your mates to support and most importantly, donate to a cause that continues to work in order to find relief for the most ruthless of diseases.

I feel so compelled to honour those we know who have fought cancer, those who are currently fighting and those in the future that may have to undergo battles against the horrible illness. This project with ACRF, is so that through the power of research, hopefully in the future, we will have less of these sad stories to share.

To future generations of recovery.

Happy Smuggling” – Jordy Parsonage

Blood Test can Guide Treatment for Most Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Peter Mac scientists have developed a simple blood test that can show which men with the most aggressive type of prostate cancer should respond to conventional therapy and those who need other options.

The researchers from Peter Mac and the Monash University School of Clinical Science, in collaboration with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, joined forces with California-based biotechnology company, Predicine, to apply a first-in-class liquid biopsy for men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC).

From as little as 10ml of blood, the test can simultaneously profile the circulating DNA and RNA which is shed by cancer cells, offering important insights into the make-up of the cancer and treatments most likely work.

Nearly 20,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Australia, making up a quarter of all male cancer diagnoses, and mCRPC is the most aggressive form accounting for over 3000 deaths from this disease every year.

Metastatic prostate cancer has spread beyond the prostate, and it is “castration-resistant” if progression continues despite the patient starting therapy that deprives the cancer of androgen hormones, such as testosterone.

“While advances in therapeutic strategies have significantly improved quantity and quality of life for men with mCRPC, there remains a pressing need to find predictive and prognostic biomarkers,” explains A/Prof Arun Azad, senior author on the study and medical oncologist at Peter Mac.

“These blood tests, also called liquid biopsies, have emerged as a minimally-invasive alternative to conventional biopsy for interrogating the prostate tumour genome.

“Liquid biopsies have demonstrated strong congruence with tumour biopsies, whilst simultaneously encapsulating the genomic complexity often seen in mCRPC.”

In this study, published in the journal European Urology, researchers applied Predicine’s cell-free DNA and cell-free RNA next generation sequencing liquid biopsy technology to detect whether changes to the Androgen Receptor (AR) gene have occurred within mCRPCs.

They used this to test the blood of Australian men with mCRPC prior to treatment, accurately detecting some form of AR alteration in over half of patients.

“We found that abnormalities in the AR gene detected in the blood of men with advanced prostate cancer were associated with poor responses to available drug treatments and reduced survival,” says A/Prof Azad.

This information could be used to better guide treatment of advanced prostate cancer.”

“A simple test to detect AR abnormalities would help doctors determine optimal treatment selection, better design innovative clinical trials, and aid in discussions with patients and caregivers around realistic and expected outcomes.

The study results were further validated in a second cohort of prostate cancer patients in the United States.

The new liquid biopsy test from Predicine is also more informative than previous tests as it analyses two types of genetic material – DNA and RNA – to give a more in-depth and accurate insight into AR abnormalities within the cancer.

This article originally appeared on the Peter Mac website. ACRF has given Peter Mac $9 million in grant funding for world-class cancer research equiptment and technology.

Updating a Will during COVID-19 social distancing

Caldwell Martin Cox (CMC) Solicitors are very proud to have assisted the ACRF in establishing their Wills Days program when the idea was first conceived in 2016. Now in these difficult times, they shared with us information about the importance of writing or updating a Will.

“We were extremely pleased to be a part of this important program that ensures a professional and personal Will service is provided to clients to best suit their particular circumstances, whilst also raising funds for the ACRF.

During these difficult times caused by the pandemic, CMC has been very flexible to accommodate our clients who have been concerned for their health. This has included sanitising all surfaces before and after appointments, staggering appointments to minimise multiple people entering our buildings at the same time, physically distancing our chairs in our waiting rooms and also allowing for initial appointments to be conducted by telephone or by web conference.

Ultimately we don’t want to see anyone put off the all-important task of creating a Will. It is a vital document that should not be overlooked.

I am happy to personally chat with anyone who has questions about creating a Will at this time.”

Lance Watson, Partner at Caldwell Martin Cox, helped ACRF launch our Wills Day in 2016.

Lee Christian and and Lance Watson at the ACRF Chairman’s Dinner

Behind the scenes: Meet Liviana

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Meet Liviana Oprea, our Community Fundraising Coordinator.

Being born in Romania, my Latin heritage has had a big influence on me. I am loud, I love people, I love having fun, I love fashion, I love to travel, to live life with passion, and let’s not forget my love for food.

I moved to Australia when I was 21 years old and I’ve fallen in love with the beautiful places and people I’ve met. I feel so blessed meeting people from different parts of the world from different cultures and different backgrounds. 

My professional background is working in a bank for 14 years but my passion is definitely working for a charity, and helping people. I love being able to engage with our supporters and attend various fundraising events. I feel so grateful for all the new friendships I have formed with various groups that support us – including the Vietnamese, Macedonian, Taiwanese, Laotian, Italian, and Greek communities.

Part of my role at ACRF is also assisting with the ‘in memory’ program, for those who have lost loved ones to cancer. I would describe myself as a very compassionate person and I really care about every phone call I receive. I wish we live in a world where cancer is a thing of the past. I have lost family members and dear friends myself due to cancer, and that’s why I believe research is so important in finding a cure for future generations. I am passionate about helping others.

One of my favourite quotes is  “At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought, but what we built; not what we got but what we shared; not our competence but our character; and not our success, but our significance. Live a life that matters. Live a life of LOVE.”

Behind the scenes: Meet Mat

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Meet Mat Fisher, our Philanthropy & Community Giving Manager

“I’m the Community Giving and Philanthropy Manager, which means I work closely with our small and incredibly awesome Community Engagement team to help our supporters donate to, or fundraise for ACRF.

I am a proud father of three children (aged 2,7 and 10) who outside of work keep my wife and I very busy at our home in the lower Blue Mountains, NSW.

The desire to join ACRF came through two previous jobs where I was working in similar roles at Medical Research Institutes that had received funding from ACRF. Knowing how the organisation operates and seeing first-hand the incredible impact it can have provided me with all the motivation needed to join when the opportunity came up.

When I’m not working, my passions are music, bushwalking and cooking -all of which I do regularly with my family. Having grown up in the 80’s I am a big Star Wars fan and some time ago fulfilled my plan of having two dogs and naming one Luke and the other Leia.”

Webinar: Research update, June 2020

This webinar featured presentations by lead researchers working on some of Australia’s most promising cancer research projects.

Dr Eleanor Campbell discusses her work with the ACRF Detector at the Australian Synchrotron as a beamline scientist. Her research interests are predominantly based around molecular evolution; how and why proteins evolve in the ways that they do, both in nature and in laboratory experiments.

Ms Moana Simpson presents how the ACRF Centre for Compound Management and Logistics at Compounds Australia is providing cancer researchers with access to infrastructure and expertise around the biological characterisation of chemical compounds critical throughout the drug discovery pipeline.

We hope you’ll find these webinars engaging and help you understand where your donations go.

Long-time ACRF supporter Anne Smith says “I found the webinar very informative and interesting. It makes me feel my contributions to ACRF are really doing some good! The technology was brilliant. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of it. A great way to celebrate ACRF’s recent 36th birthday!”

Each of the researchers answered questions submitted by attendees during the webinar. If you’d like to join us at our next webinar, please email zoom@acrf.com.au

Blood Cancer Find Raises New Treatment Hopes

New QIMR Berghofer research has identified how an early genetic change in blood and bone marrow cells paves the way for the development of some blood cancers.

The research has placed a new target on treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukaemia.

The discovery provides a new target for treatment of the blood cancers myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). MDS is often a precursor cancer to AML, a highly aggressive form of leukaemia.

The research findings have been published in the prestigious international journal Nature Communications.

Lead researcher and the head of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Cancer Program, Associate Professor Steven Lane, said his team engineered the transcription factor Cdx2 into normal mouse blood cells, and this resulted in the development of MDS and AML.

“We found that Cdx2 hijacks and corrupts how other genes behave in blood and bone marrow cells. It sows the seeds of vulnerability which then allows the development of other genetic mutations that lead to cancer,” Professor Lane said.

“It’s a step-wise process that closely reflects the progression of human MDS to AML, where genetic mutations occur in blood and bone marrow stem cells and these immature cells become a reservoir for leukaemia.

“Cdx2 isn’t usually present in normal blood formation, so our study on mice showed its presence in the early stem cell stage of development was the likely driver of leukaemia.

“It’s possible that targeting the early processes leading to MDS in patients might prevent the acquisition of other mutations that lead to acute leukaemia.”

Additional study on the effects of an anti-leukaemia drug on the Cdx2 gene 

As part of the study the researchers also tested how existing anti-leukaemia drug azacitidine affected the Cdx2 gene.

Associate Professor Lane, who is also a clinical haematologist at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, said azacitidine is currently funded under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the treatment of MDS.

“We found that reducing the dosage of the medication and giving it over a longer period of time was more effective in killing off Cdx2 cells and leukaemia cells than the standard treatment regimen that provides high dosages of azacitidine at intermittent intervals,” he said.

“There is a new, oral form of azacitidine that might be more suited to the lower dose, extended treatment regimen, but further tests will be necessary to determine its efficacy in patients.”

According to the Leukaemia Foundation, MDS is a common blood cancer in patients over the age of 60. It can affect children but is less common in younger age groups. It can turn into AML, which is a rare type of leukaemia, accounting for 0.8 per cent of diagnosed cancers, and is hard to treat.

The study findings can be accessed on the Nature Communications website.

The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Fund of Australia and the Leukaemia Foundation of Australia. Celgene – a Bristol-Myers Squibb company supplied azacitidine and provided additional research funding for the study.

Quick Facts about MDS and AML:

MDS affects between 20 and 50 people per 100,000 according to the Leukaemia Foundation. It develops slowly and patients often do not show symptoms for a long time.

About 900 Australians are diagnosed with AML each year. It can occur at any age but is more common in adults over the age of 60. About 50 children (0-14 years) are diagnosed with AML in Australia each year.

Fewer than one in four people are still alive five years after being diagnosed with AML according to Cancer Australia.

This article originally appeared on the QIMR Berghofer website. ACRF has given three grants to QIMR Berghofer totalling over $7 million for world-class cancer research.

Webinar: Research Update, May 2020

This webinar featured presentations by lead researchers working on some of Australia’s most promising cancer research projects.

Professor Phil Hogg provided an update on the work he and his team have been doing at the ACRF Tumour Metabolism Laboratory which focuses on the role of nutrient metabolism particularly in tumours of the Lung, Liver, Breast, Prostate, Colon and Pancreas.

The lab was established with a grant awarded in 2016, thanks to the generosity of our supporters. It continues to support researchers in better understanding the way cancer cells metabolise dietary nutrients.

Professor Paul Keall also presented on the work being done at the ACRF Image-X Institute, which aims to eradicate cancer through innovation in imaging and targeted x-ray therapy. Image-X was established in 2014 with a $2.5 million grant from ACRF.

Each of the researchers answered questions submitted by attendees during the webinar. If you’d like to join us at our next webinar, please email zoom@acrf.com.au

Featured Cancer Researchers

Professor Phil Hogg Head, ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre at Centenary Institute

Prof Philip Hogg graduated with a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Queensland in 1987. Following post-doctoral training in the USA and Sweden, he returned to UNSW as a NHMRC RD Wright Fellow. He is currently a NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow and was the inaugural director of the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at UNSW. He has won several national and international awards for his research, which focuses on a fundamental chemical modification of proteins he discovered. This research has led to a potential new cancer diagnostic and a therapeutic that are in clinical testing.

Professor Paul Keall, Director, The ACRF Image X Institute @University of Sydney

Prof. Keall graduated with his B.Sc. from the University of Waikato, and an M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the University of Adelaide. His career has taken him to positions at Queensland University of Technology, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to his current role, he was the Director of the Radiation Physics Division at Stanford University. At the University of Sydney Prof. Keall and his team of 20+ scientists have the mission to create, share and apply novel cancer imaging and targeted radiotherapy methods that improve human health.

Research Update: the ACRF Detector


In 2015 ACRF awarded $2 million to The Australian Synchrotron. The ACRF Detector funded would enable the shape and function of proteins to be analysed on the Australian Synchrotron’s Micro Crystallography (MX2) beamline in a fraction of the time taken, providing a ten-fold increase in capacity crucial to accelerating cancer drug development.

The capital investment was used  to significantly expand the capability of the Australian Synchrotron Micro Crystallography (MX2) beamline. This technology accurately analyses the 3D shape and functional interaction of proteins. 

The brilliant light of the MX2 beamline allows researchers to investigate the arrangement and activity of molecules in cancer cells (and cancer treatments) at a level of detail that is not possible at any other Australian research facility. 

By introducing the capacity to process large numbers of micron sized protein crystals, the ACRF Detector increases capacity of this crucial beamline, enabling many more research studies to take place, while producing data of greater accuracy and quality. 

This means researchers will gain answers much faster, shortening the time from laboratory research to the clinical trial, which tests the performance of new cancer drugs. 

The grant was awarded to an esteemed research consortium comprising of micro-crystallography experts from six research institutions across Australia. The ACRF Synchrotron became operational in 2016. 

At the time the ACRF investment in this key cancer research technology, was available at only a handful of other synchrotron facilities around the world.

Dr Rachel Williamson with the ACRF detector on the MX2 beamline.

PROGRESS in 2019

The ARCF Eiger 16M Detector has been revolutionary for the MX2 Beamline at the Australian Synchrotron. From an operational perspective, 2019 saw the detector collect 51,064,846 diffraction images, associated with 71,460 datasets across 240 distinct group experiments. Approximately 5 petabytes of raw (uncompressed) data were generated by the ACRF detector in 2019 prior to reduction, processing and analysis.

Use of the ACRF Detector on the Micro-Crystallography (MX2) beamline has continued to grow, and the Macromolecular Crystallography beamlines at the Australian Synchrotron (MX1 and MX2) produced a record number of publications in 2019. More than 210 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles were published in the highest quality journals such as Science, Nature Immunology, Nature Cell Biology, Trends in Biochemical Sciences and Science Translational Medicine.

Large numbers of protein structures from the Australian Synchrotron (~290) were also deposited in the worldwide Protein Data Bank (PDB). Scientific outputs from the MX2 beamline and the ACRF Detector have increased compared to 2018, with 89 PDB structures and 60 journal publications based on data acquired using the ACRF Detector.

In 2019 one of the applicants for the grant for the ACRF Detector (Peter Czabotar from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research) received the Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation. Dr Czabotar has also been a productive user of the ACRF Detector during the year, with a publication resulting from use of the detector appearing in the journal Nature Communications.

The Australian Synchrotron has continued to deliver excellent science outputs and outcomes in 2019. This is evidenced by a record number of 608 peer-reviewed journal publications resulting from research undertaken at the facility. Over 1/3 of these publications (214) resulted from structures determined using the MX1 and MX2 beamlines, demonstrating the importance of these beamlines to the scientific program at the Australian Synchrotron. The number of journal articles published in 2019 that contain data taken using the ACRF Detector continues to increase in line with expectations based on the lead-time between data collection and publication. Starting with 4 publications in 2017, there were 311 in 2018 and more than 60 in 2019. Over the next few years we will see continued growth to the point where almost all MX2 publications (which account for the majority of publications on MX1 and MX2) will result from data collected using the ACRF Detector. 

2019 saw at-least 88 research theses published containing results from Australian Synchrotron beamlines; the vast majority being for Doctoral Theses. This is a substantial underestimate of the actual total number of research theses, which usually numbers more than 150 per annum. More than 1/3 of these research theses contain data from the MX1 and/or the MX2 beamlines. The Australian Synchrotron StephenWilkinsThesisMedalfor the most outstanding doctoral thesis in 2019 was awarded to Dr Angus Cowan (WEHI) for his thesis: Structural Investigations of Pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 Family Proteins. This research was centrally focused on understanding key biomolecular mechanisms associated with cancer and cell death, with his work also contributing to the development of the drug Venetoclax.

Read the full report here

Research Update: Compounds Australia

In 2018, ACRF granted $2 million to Griffith University to establish the ACRF Centre for Compound Management and Logistics at Compounds Australia – Australia’s only dedicated compound management facility. Below is an update on the important work that has been done since that time.

“Our greatest challenge today is COVID-19 and the impact on the global economy. Our greatest success is the ability to adapt and deal with the problems that arise along the way. Compounds Australia is housed at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD), a biomedical research institute dedicated to developing innovative new solutions for devastating conditions including cancers, infectious diseases (e.g. malaria, drug resistance), neurological disorders (e.g. Parkinsons disease) and spinal cord injury repair. 

Compounds Australia’s new equipment platform

GRIDD’s Compounds Australia is Australia’s only integrated compound management facility. This highly specialised facility maintains and manages a library of compounds and natural products and makes these available at low cost to academic and not-for-profit researchers. Demand for these services continues to increase every year, however, the current equipment is approaching end of life. In response, management has embarked upon an exciting project to purchase and install leading-edge and cost-effective equipment. This installation will be the first time in the world that this technology has been implemented in an academic environment

The installation includes much greater storage coupled with robotic systems and software that together will significantly increase capacity and allow for continued expansion in workload and customers while keeping manual involvement manageable.

Steering Group Established

With the project undergoing significant growth, we are pleased to announce the Steering Group has been established, chaired by Professor Katherine Andrews. The role of the Steering Group is to provide advice, ensure delivery of the project outputs and ensure the achievement of project outcomes. Wilma James, Compounds Australia Strategic Business Manager, and Moana Simpson, Compounds Australia Facility Manager, provide the technical, operational and project input to support the Steering Group through the project phases.

Brooks Equipment Installation

The Brooks equipment, in all its disassembled parts, arrived on Thursday 5th March in a 40ft shipping container!  The Brooks “Build” team of three were inducted and ready to work from the 9th March, ahead of schedule.  The SampleStoreII was built from the ground up within the main Compounds Australia laboratory, with an integrated Plate Selector and acoustic technology (AcoustiX) tube picker, the central robot arm will be able to manoeuvre the combined 4,000 microplate and 400,000 AcoustiX tube capacity of the store.  Additionally, Compounds Australia has an integrated handoff to enable full integration to the new HighRes Biosolutions robot platform and a manual input/output module for offline processing.  The build was completed in a record nine days and testament to the hard – working team from Brooks.

The next phase of the process will have the store commissioned, with Facility Manager, Moana Simpson, and Assistant Manager, Rebecca Lang, putting it through its paces during site acceptance testing, following by the remaining staff receiving training. This will be the first worldwide installation and commissioning of the AcoustiX microtube in an Academic environment and the team at Compounds Australia is working with the Brooks team to have this online following COVID-19 disruptions.”

This article originally appeared in the Compounds Australia Newsletter.

Behind the Scenes: Meet Deb

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Meet Deborah Warner, our Direct Giving and Database Manager,

“May 26 was my sixteenth anniversary at ACRF. I’m the Direct Giving and Database Manager, which means I oversee our appeals and regular giving programs and also manage our Salesforce database. I believe my dual role is perfect for my ambivert personality.

Someone once said “find something you love, and you won’t work a day in your life”.

I feel fortunate that I genuinely enjoy what I do and work for an organisation that makes an impact on people’s lives.

I came to Australia from the UK just after the Sydney Olympics, like many travellers I only planned to be in Australia for two months but finally settled here permanently in 2002.

When I’m not working my passions are music, food and travel. Last year I had the opportunity to travel through Asia extensively spending some time at a health retreat.

This year I planned to visit Croatia and attend a music festival, but then COVID-19 happened. I hope when this pandemic is finally over, I get to travel again.”

Behind the Scenes at ACRF: Meet Siddique

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Meet Siddique Abu, ACRF’s Accountant.

“I have been with ACRF since 2014. As an accountant, my primary responsibilities are preparing financial and management accounts, budgeting and cash flow. As a Chartered Accountant, I also involved in the strategic development & financial performance analysis of the foundation.

I work within the executive team in ACRF reporting directly to the CEO. But working for ACRF has added a new dimension in my career because it gives me the opportunities to engage with world-class cancer researchers and collaborate with the cancer research institutes in person. The combination of my professional skill as an accountant and interpersonal relationship within the cancer research field make this job full of contentment and endless satisfaction.

I migrated from Bangladesh in 2007 and became an Australian in 2013; I have a young family with a three-and-a-half-year-old son. I love cooking and playing cricket. Every opportunity that we have to go out at the moment, I prepare a delicious traditional dish and carry a cricket set in my car boot. Playing with the little one at home nowadays is a big part of my leisure.”

Killing ‘sleeper cells’ may enhance breast cancer therapy

The anti-cancer medicine venetoclax could improve the current therapy for estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer – the most common form of breast cancer in Australia – according to preclinical studies led by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers.

Smiling researcher
Clinician PhD student Dr James Whittle has led a 
study revealing that the anti-cancer medicine venetoclax
could enhance current treatments for ER+ breast cancers.

The research team showed that venetoclax could kill breast cancer cells that had been ‘put to sleep’ by a drug that blocks cell division (called a CDK4/6 inhibitor), which is currently used in combination with hormone therapies to treat ER+ breast cancer. The research, which used breast cancer cells taken from patients, was the first to show that venetoclax could kill sleeping, or ‘senescent’, cancer cells.

The promising preclinical results for this ‘triple therapy’ have underpinned a phase 1 clinical trial in Melbourne that is combining venetoclax with hormone therapy and CDK4/6 inhibitors in patients with ER+ breast cancer.

Dr James Whittle, Professor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader led the research, which was published in Clinical Cancer Research.

At a glance

  • ER+ breast cancers are currently treated with a combination of a hormone therapy plus a CDK4/6 inhibitor drug. These force the cancer cells into a ‘sleeping’ state but do not kill them, leading to a high risk of eventual cancer relapse.
  • Using hormone receptor-positive breast cancer samples taken from patients, our researchers showed that adding the anti-cancer drug venetoclax to the hormone therapy/CDK4/6 inhibitor combination could kill the ‘sleeping cells’ – potentially prolonging the cancer’s response to therapy.
  • The potential new ‘triple therapy’ for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer is now being assessed in a phase 1 clinical trial in Melbourne.

Killing sleeping cells

Around 70 per cent of breast cancer cases in Australia are estrogen-receptor positive, meaning they will grow in response to the female hormone estrogen. The current ‘gold standard’ therapy for treating these breast cancers on relapse is a combination of anti-hormone therapy – which prevents estrogen signalling – plus a medicine called a CDK4/6 inhibitor that blocks cell division, said Dr James Whittle, a clinician PhD student at the Institute and a medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

“This current therapy works well in slowing cancer growth, but it does not actually kill the cancer cells – it just sends them into a sleeping or dormant state, called senescence,” he said. “This unfortunately means cancer relapse is virtually inevitable. In fact, the majority of breast cancer deaths in Australia are from patients with ER+ breast cancer.

“If we could find a way to kill these sleeping cancer cells, we might be able to help patients live longer. To do this, we looked to medicines that directly block the proteins that help cancer cells to survive,” he said.

The team examined whether ER+ breast cancer cells were sensitive to venetoclax, an anti-cancer medicine that inhibits the cell survival protein BCL-2. Venetoclax is in clinical use for treating certain types of blood cancers, and in clinical trials for a range of cancers including breast cancer.

“We discovered that venetoclax could indeed kill ER+ breast cancer cells that had been treated with a CDK4/6 inhibitor – even those that were senescent. This was an exciting result as it was the first time that venetoclax has been shown to kill senescent cells,” Dr Whittle said.

Triple therapy threat for tumours

In several laboratory models, including those using ER+ breast cancer samples from patients, the researchers showed that adding venetoclax to the combination of hormone therapy and a CDK4/6 inhibitor led to a better and longer-term response of the tumour to the therapy, said Professor Lindeman, who is a clinician-scientist at the Institute and a medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

“These promising results provided a justification for starting clinical trials to look at a ‘triple therapy’ combining venetoclax, hormone therapy and a CDK4/6 inhibitor in patients with ER+ breast cancer,” Professor Lindeman said.

“We have initiated the phase 1 PALVEN trial which will, in the first place, look at whether this triple therapy is safe for patients, and will also consider how patients’ tumours respond to the triple therapy.

“It would be wonderful to see a new therapy that improves the outcomes of patients with ER+ breast cancer,” Professor Lindeman said.

Please note that due to COVID-19, the PALVEN trial is currently not accepting new participants.

Venetoclax was developed by AbbVie and Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, in collaboration with Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists.

The research was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Qualtrough Cancer Research Fund, Joan Marshall Breast Cancer Research Fund, Tracey Keogh and Sharon Croft, Collie Foundation, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Cancer Council Victoria and the Victorian Government. Breast cancer samples were provided by the Victorian Cancer Biobank. Dr Whittle is PhD student at the Institute, enrolled through the University of Melbourne’s Department of Medical Biology.

This article originally appeared on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute website.

Boosting the Power of Immunotherapy for More Effective Cancer Treatment

Activating two different types of immune cells at the same time has been shown to boost the effects of immunotherapy to find and kill cancer cells in solid tumours according to researchers from Peter Mac.

Adoptive T cell therapies, including chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, which use genetically engineered killer immune T cells, are emerging forms of immunotherapy that redirect the immune system to target cancer.

This treatment approach can allow treatments to be tailored to each individual, and has been used very successfully to treat certain blood cancers, such as some types of leukaemia.

However, CAR T cell therapy has had limited success in solid tumours such as those of the breast and lung.

Researchers have now found a way to add a new tool to the immunotherapy arsenal, by boosting the activity of immune cells called dendritic cells (DCs) to aid in the recognition and attack of cancer cells.

This new approach, developed by researchers at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, led by Dr Junyun Lai, Dr Sherly Mardiana, Prof Phillip Darcy and Dr Paul Beavis, can overcome many of the issues with conventional immunotherapy.

“One of the major impediments to effective T cell therapy is that in many cases not all cancer cells within a single tumour look the same. In fact, it is common to have high variability of the target protein recognised by the CAR T cells inside the same tumour, an effect known as heterogeneity,” explains senior author on the study Dr Paul Beavis.

“Engineered CAR T cells are very effective at killing the cancer cells that express the target protein. But, unfortunately they are not very good at finding cancer cells that lack this target protein.”

The key to overcoming this issue, Dr Beavis says, could be to recruit and boost other immune cells, including DCs, to lend the T cells a hand.

“Activating the DC immune cells could overcome cancer cell heterogeneity, as DCs are specialised in activating the body’s own immune system. By boosting immune DCs, these DCs are then able to orchestrate a new immune response against the cancer,” says Dr Beavis.

To test this, study co-leads Dr Lai and Dr Mardiana engineered in the laboratory specialised T cells capable of producing a powerful molecule that can expand DCs at the tumour site.

“When we placed these engineered T cells into mice with tumours we found they were able to trigger an influx of DCs into tumours. When we combined the engineered T cells with drugs that further activate immune cells, we found that we could shrink tumours far more effectively,” says Dr Lai.

“What was really exciting about this approach is that we were able to stimulate the body’s immune system to attack multiple targets on cancer cells, helping to overcome the issue of heterogeneity.”

Prof Darcy, co-senior lead on the research, says that this is an important advancement in overcoming tumour heterogeneity that could lead to immunotherapies that are far more effective in the future.

“Our data suggest that augmenting DCs is a promising strategy to overcome the clinical problem of tumour cell escape due to lack of immune cell recognition following adoptive cell therapy,” say Prof Darcy.

“This is an exciting time for cancer immunotherapy. Our research shines a light on DCs as an important new component in the next generation of immune-targeting therapies for the treatment of solid cancers,” says Dr Beavis.

The paper, entitled Adoptive cellular therapy with T cells expressing the dendritic cell growth factor Flt3L drives epitope spreading and antitumor immunity was published in the journal Nature Immunology.

This article originally appeared on the Peter Mac website. ACRF has given $9 Million to Peter Mac for research into all types of cancer.

Beautiful Lovey

My name is Karen and I live on the NSW South Coast. I am a wife, mother of four, and grandmother of four. My interests are op-shopping and treasure-hunting for interesting vintage collectables. I also like to revamp and repurpose discarded furniture and other household items, but I especially love vintage fabrics and linens.

The impact of cancer motivated me to take action when we lost my dear mum, Ann, to cancer six years ago. We all know someone who is impacted or directly affected by cancer – it touches all of us. I found out about ACRF from a local cancer support group volunteer who helped my mum regularly. I believe research is the key to finding fair dinkum cures and funding that research is vital. 

Beautiful Lovey, my shop, began as a tribute to my mum. It was a phrase she and my dad used to express gratitude to each other – “beautiful dinner, lovey!”

I get my love of ‘old stuff’ from my mum, I grew up being content with second-hand items and I’m still the same today. I believe there’s enough stuff in the world and I much prefer to rescue and reclaim reloved materials rather than purchasing brand new. I sell my items such as aprons, bunting, cushion covers, market totes and reusable produce bags in my etsy and pop up shop. 

I decided to donate 10% of my sales to ACRF as it allows me to make regular contributions and highlight the cause more often. I thank my customers for their contribution by letting them know this amount goes directly to ACRF. We also requested donations for ACRF at mum’s funeral in place of flowers, and at our wedding in place of gifts.

I’d like to take this opportunity to cheer on my best friend from school, Liz, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer also.

Losing my mum was devastating and to see her suffer and fight so bravely has strengthened my resolve to continue to support vital cancer research because until a cure is found we will continue to lose people we love.

ACRF would like to thank Karen for her dedication to supporting cancer research. You are truly helping to make a positive impact in the lives of so many touched by this disease. We wish you, and your friend Liz, all the best.

ACRF Digital Trivia Night

Let’s get quizzical and support life-saving research into all types of cancer. Host a digital trivia night with Adam Spencer for your team at work.

In response to the current pandemic, ACRF has been thinking of ways of helping our corporate supporters stay connected with their staff while working partially remotely and help them make a meaningful contribution to society during this challenging time.

We created a Virtual STEM-related Trivia Night and are very excited that Adam Spencer has joined the project as an emcee.

Boost team spirit

Building connections and team spirit is the key to working well together. Sharing a fun experience in a safe environment will help your team to relax and bond.

Help your team think outside the box

Promoting ways of staying intellectually flexible and help teams spend time thinking outside their usual zone.

Caring for wellbeing

Social distancing has the potential to generate feelings of loneliness for many and combined with anxiety about the coming weeks and months, this can affect a team.

By offering a team-based digital engagement activity teams can connect with their colleagues in a fun and unusual way to share a positive experience.

Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to support a cause close to your team’s hearts

By choosing the ACRF digital trivia night you demonstrate your commitment to the ongoing support of our mission to outsmart cancer by providing Australian world-class scientists with the equipment they need to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of all types of cancer.

Now more than ever we need to support our scientists as they work towards unravelling some of the complex challenges that lie ahead.

Format:Zoom Meeting (video and ppt)
Duration:50 – 60 min (45-minute trivia activity + short intro and wrap up)
DateMutually agreed on and exclusively for your company
Emcee:Mr. Adam Spencer
Max. Participants:96 people
Event price:$5,000
Enquiries/ Contact:        ssteffen@acrf.com.au

Please contact our corporate partnerships coordinator Svenja if you are interested in hosting a digital trivia night.

Knitting for a Cause

“We are five cousins aged 10 to 13. Our names are Lauren, Dash, Lucy, Mia and Sarah. We live in and around Brisbane. In 2019, we lost our Aunty to Colon cancer. In the same month, our Mum / Aunty was diagnosed with Breast cancer. 

We wanted to do something to help. It is such It is such a helpless feeling to be with a loved one diagnosed with cancer, or dying of it. We just wanted to help somehow. 

When her Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, Sarah started to secretly knit a beanie, as she would soon go through chemotherapy and lose her hair. All five cousins agreed we wanted to be able to help people with cancer somehow. Sarah taught us all to finger knit and we began making lots of beanies and scarves and pom-poms. 

Then we began planning a stall in the park in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, to sell them and raise money for cancer research.

We set out to fundraise money at our stall, but something else happened too, something we didn’t realise would happen. People were so generous all day, some even coming back twice!

People wanted to hang out, people wanted to talk and share stories. People like us who wanted to help somehow were coming together. Our stall had enabled this, which was as likely more valuable than the money fundraised at the end of the day. 

After the event, all of us were so excited because at the start our tables were overflowing with beanies and scarves – so many there were some in boxes. 

But the end, people had stopped and bought so much, we couldn’t wait to see how much money was raised. Every single beanie was sold! About 100 scarves were sold! When we packed up and counted the money we had raised through the stall we counted $1285!! We were so happy and so overwhelmed. We never thought we would raise that much through our stall. 

We had cookies, brownies, caramel slice and gluten-free cake, these were all freshly baked by family and friends who wanted to support. We had knitted scarves and beanies with the help of aunties and grandparents. We also made pom poms, snake bookmarks, little animals and little bags. We had brought lots of wool so that people could learn how to finger knit and make beanies in the park too.

We chose ACRF after looking into quite a few cancer foundations and felt that it was the best to give our money to because it appeared to be focused on cancer research and driven to help people and raise. 

We wanted to support cancer research because we had just lost our Aunty to cancer. Over the six years she lived with the disease we learnt so much about cancer, cancer treatments and how much treatments were advancing with medical research. 

Cancer treatment has come along way and we want to support research continuing and helping. 

It is hard to describe, but the day of our fundraising event was mega special. We’ll remember it forever. If you’d like to support us, you can do so by following us on Instagram – @knittingforacause.”

ACRF would like to thank the incredible Lauren, Dash, Lucy, Mia and Sarah for their creativity, support, and for sharing their story. You are truly helping to make a difference in the lives of those impacted by cancer.

Philip loyally supports ACRF through Workplace Giving

Philip has been supporting Australian Cancer Research Foundation through Workplace Giving for the last 12 years. We couldn’t be more thankful for his dedicated support. He shares his story on how he came to support ACRF below.

“My name is Philip, I’m 51 years young, married and living in Elermore Vale, Newcastle, NSW.  I have two stepsons, the youngest one lives in Melbourne and the oldest lives with us.

I work in Telstra, in Service Outage Management as a Customer Outage Specialist. I like to keep fit and healthy.  Reading and podcasts feature heavily in my day to day routine as well, often walking and listening to an eBook or a podcast as I go.

About 12 years ago, my favourite uncle, Ian (Mum’s younger brother) succumbed to a fast and aggressive acting cancer.  It was a Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the tongue, which started as a persistent little ulceration on the underside of his tongue. 

In the early onset, Uncle Ian endured what I believe is called a Hemi-glossectomy.  This is where the surgeons removed half his tongue, then grafting muscle from his forearm to rebuild it.  Sadly, it was not soon enough as it had metastasised already.  He didn’t last much longer, perhaps a couple of months before asphyxiating in the middle of the night, whilst he was an inpatient at an end of life/palliative care house. It was heartbreaking, to see him fight so hard and to fade away like this, his mind never faltered and he was cognisant to the very end, I think.  Uncle Ian was 63 years old.

He is survived by his wife, Loretta and their two children Kathryn (22-23 at the time) and Kenny (15) at the time.

I idolised my uncle, while I was growing up.  He had been in the RAAF as a Radio Technician and was incredibly smart. We used to spend hours discussing aeroplanes and technology, I would say he had a very dry sense of humour too.  It was fun to hang out with him, so even now I miss him dearly & our many conversations.   I too ended up joining the RAAF, when I was 17.  He was definitely a contributing influence there. I served with the RAAF for 7 years.

Uncle Ian’s death had a profound effect on me, as I felt impotent and wanted to do more somehow.  I knew that although nothing can bring him back (except for our memories and prayers), I needed to do something.

Initially, ACRF wasn’t on the Telstra workplace giving program.  I sought ACRF out on my own volition. I had to organise for a small portion of my pay to be deposited directly.  Things have changed in the last 12 years now, of course. There are so many options in workplace giving & it is so easy to set up too.

I’ve been giving for a little over 12 years now and to be honest, I don’t even notice anymore. This is thanks to the payroll deductions in place.  Although I consider my contributions to be relatively small, they all add up. The sum total over the years was relayed to me, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount and it gave me a great sense of achievement.  It gives meaning to a quote; “From small things, big things grow”.

I have a belief, that many small contributions can make a huge difference.  I can compare it to an experience in my recruit training for the RAAF in Edinburgh, SA in 1986:

Back then, my flight of about 20 odd recruits (equivalent in size to a couple of army squads) were on our way back from Murray Bridge, after completing fieldcraft and exercises in the bush.  There was a highway accident, where a very large trailer had tipped over and was immovable.  All us recruits poured out of our bus and approached the trailer on one side.  Without any fuss and minimal individual effort, we had successfully tipped the trailer back on its wheels.  I remember, only having two fingers of each hand having purchase on this trailer.  I also remember how easy it was, as a group to lift together.  

I favour this analogy, as it highlights accurately, how many small contributions can add up to something incredible.

There are many, higher-profile organisations that I could’ve chosen from.  I ended up looking to ACRF, as I was impressed by their quiet work ethic and dedication to so many research projects.  Seeking out the best scientists and doctors and providing them with grants really struck a chord with me.  Here’s an organisation, I felt could make a huge difference in all our lives. 

After all, we will have all known and loved someone with cancer.

Learn more about supporting ACRF through Workplace Giving here.

World-leading research: ACRF Image X Institute

In 2014, thanks to the generosity of our donors, ACRF awarded $2.5 million to support three unique cancer imaging and targeted radiotherapy devices through the development of the ACRF Image X Institute.

These include an MRI-Linac, a real-time cancer imaging and targeted therapy system; the Nano-X, a smarter, smaller cancer radiotherapy system and a robotic imaging machine to advance patient connected imaging. 

MRI Linac, a powerful experimental cancer radiation therapy system, based at Liverpool Hospital, NSW

About ACRF Image X Institute

The ACRF Image X Institute, based in Sydney, is a world-leading research centre for basic and translational medical innovation. The work focuses on radiation oncology imaging and targeted radiotherapy systems.

The institute’s purpose is to create, share and apply scientific knowledge to improve health by building new technology for cancer imaging and targeted radiation therapy by:

  • Inventing and exploring new ideas that lead to scientific discoveries.
  • Applying key discoveries for real-world benefit through first-in-human clinical trials.
  • Translating successful clinical trial outcomes into widespread clinical practice to improve global health.

2019 Outcomes

In 2019, key outcomes reported by the ACRF Image X Institute include:

  • Clinical studies – 8 studies have been completed; 8 studies are currently recruiting subjects & 9 studies are under development.  A total of 14 sites are involved in Australia and NZ.
  • 24 Scientific publications 
  • Intellectual Property: 9 Patents filed with 13 license agreements.

Two articles were published by the popular science Physics World:

The first article was based around the question: how can we reduce the size, reliability and the room and equipment cost of radiotherapy? The answer is to gently rotate the patient rather than a 3-tonne complex and sensitive radiation source. This idea has led to the development of the Nano-X cancer radiotherapy system in partnership with the Prince of Wales Hospital. Dr Paul Liu, who is leading the development and research program for the Nano-X, was interviewed about this project.

In addition, Tess Reynolds’ Best in Physics work on her patient connected imaging project ‘ACROBEAT’ was highlighted by Physics World.

The prototype radiotherapy system combines a fixed vertical radiation beam with horizontal patient rotation. 

Leading through Unique Capabilities

ARTIS pheno training and installation of real-time control

The ARTIS pheno C-Arm is an advanced robotic imaging system, purchased with funding from the ACRF grant, and situated in the Hybrid Theatre of Sydney Imaging. Through a research agreement with Siemens Healthineers Image X is the only research group provided with real-time control of the operation of this imaging system. Two scientists from Siemens Healthineers in Germany visited to install the control addition and provide training. This installation will allow the experimental validation of methods developed by A/Prof Ricky O’Brien and Dr Tess Reynolds to adapt image acquisition to the patients’ cardiac and respiratory signals.

Outcomes enabled by ACRF Supporters

“I would especially like to thank the ACRF for its funding and support going forward, which is instrumental in enabling us to carry out our ground-breaking research and ensures we can work towards better outcomes for cancer patients.” says Paul Keall, Ph.D, a Professor and NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow Director at the ACRF Image X Institute

International Recognition

Professor Keall continues with a note of congratulations for his team.

“In 2019 we were able to congratulate two of our Higher Degree Research students on their awards. Ben Cooper whose PhD thesis is entitled, ‘The investigation of novel x-ray imaging technique in radiation oncology’.
It was fantastic that Dr Ben Cooper won the 2019 Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM) Better Healthcare Technology Foundation PhD award for his PhD thesis. Ben’s award in 2019 follows Brendan Whelan’s award in 2018 and Sean Pollock’s in 2017.”

“Ben did his PhD part-time, whilst working full time – he is now Chief Physicist at Canberra Hospital. I am also very proud of Fiona Hegi-Johnson who also graduated in 2019. Fiona Hegi-Johnson whose PhD thesis ‘Let there be light: Harnessing the Power of New Imaging Technologies to Improve Outcomes for Lung Cancer Radiotherapy Patients’, has subsequently obtained a Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre Clinician Researcher Fellowship, a wonderful recognition of Fiona’s achievements and will enable her to carry out further research to improve cancer imaging, biology understanding and targeted treatments.”

“Our PhD students are carefully selected on their outstanding capabilities and it is rewarding Nicholas Hindley, a PhD student won a very highly competed and prestigious Fulbright Foreign Student Program and will spend part of next year at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, in addition to visiting other sites where machine learning and image reconstruction are strong themes.”

“Nicholas was successful in receiving a Cancer Research Network Postgraduate Conference Travel Grant. Nicholas also received the Most Outstanding Presentation Award at the MedPhys19 annual NSW/ACT medical physics conference, along with Natasha Morton who received the Postgraduate Award. It was great that Emily Hewson was selected for a Sydney Vital Scholar Award.”

“It is always gratifying when our staff are recognised and rewarded for their outstanding work and several early career researchers have established their leadership in their fields.”

“Paul Liu was awarded a 3-year Early Career Fellowship for ‘Upright radiotherapy for improved lung cancer treatment outcomes’ David Waddington was also awarded a 3-year early career fellowship ‘Personalising cancer radiation therapy via dynamic MRI-based adaptation to changing tumour anatomy and biology’. Paul and David were two of only four Cancer Institute NSW Early Career Fellowships awarded in 2019.”

“Our work at the Institute has been internationally recognised at the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) with three invited talks (Paul Liu and myself), four oral presentations – all from PhD students Emily Hewson (x2), Nicholas Hindley and Natasha Morton, seven snap orals Andy Shieh, Marco Mueller, Paul Liu, Praise Lim, Owen Dillon, Tess Reynolds and Trang Nguyen. In addition, we had three e-posters, Samuel Blake, Kehuan Shi and Elisabeth Steiner.”

These incredible outcomes would not be possible without the generosity of our dedicated supporters. Thank you for enabling this incredible research to take place.

Read the full report

Behind the scenes at ACRF: Meet Lee

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Meet Lee Christian, our Planned Giving Manager.

“After nearly 10-years working for ACRF, I still get excited when I meet a supporter in person for the first time. It’s like we are solidifying a friendship that until now has been carried out over the phone or via email. It’s truly an honour to meet them – many who’ve been donating to us for decades and have had deep personal experiences with cancer.  Luckily we have plenty of opportunities to do this – such as lab tours and our annual high teas.

As the Planned Giving Manager, I am humbled by those who make that very personal commitment to ACRF by including a bequest in their Will. This is indeed a gift from the heart. I always say – it’s not the amount that is in the Will, but the number of people who do this that makes all the difference. 

At home – I have two busy teenagers and I try to stay active and fit. One of the things I enjoy doing with my husband is long bushwalks and I feel very lucky that our neighbourhood has loads of parks and bushland to enjoy this. We also enjoy travel and are trying to do as much as possible before our chickens fly the coop. From simple family camping trips to international travel – these are best enjoyed as a family.

For now – during COVID19 lock-down we are enjoying this ‘enforced family time’ – with lots of family dinners, game-nights and movie-nights. But I am sure we will all be happy to see life go back to normal. The first thing I plan to do when able is a quick trip to QLD to see my parents.”

Behind the Scenes at ACRF: Meet Victoria

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. We’re a small but dedicated group committed, as we know you are, to helping to create a world without cancer. Meet Victoria Bonsey, our Philanthropy & Engagement Manager.

“I’m originally from England but a gap-year for a working holiday in Australia in 1988 turned into permanent residency and citizenship when I fell in love – with Australia and Australians! This has also meant many trips back and forth to the UK over the years, but I have never regretted my decision. Besides I love travelling! Apart from travel (when we can) I also love walking my dog, hiking, gardening, cooking for family and friends, listening to music and singing in a local community choir.

My professional background started in sales and marketing, but my passion for working in the charity sector began with my first community development role in NSW in 2001. I have worked for not-for-profits ever since – I love being able to use my skill set to help bring about lasting change for the betterment of society and the people in it. Unfortunately, I have had many close family members and friends affected by cancer; which ultimately led me to ACRF as I strongly believe in the importance of accelerating research into all cancers.

I have been at ACRF for nearly three years in Melbourne, helping the ACRF team engage with our supporters, some of whom are able to assist with significant gifts. The cumulative power of individuals giving what they can, however small, is vital if we are to help our brightest scientists unlock the answers they seek through their brilliant research. To this end, I have presented at schools, community clubs, gala balls, senior citizens meetings, corporate staff meetings and board rooms. But my favourite thing is when I can have a cup of tea with a loyal supporter and get to hear their story.

Our supporters are amazing! I am just grateful that I get the opportunity to meet them and listen to them, to let them know about the significance and impact of their gifts, and how much we appreciate them all, however big or small.”

Behind the Scenes at ACRF: Meet Michael and Anna

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. Michael and Anna are dedicated volunteers that regularly help out in the ACRF office, and have been doing so for almost 5 years! They share their story below.

“In  2014 we first heard of ACRF when sent an appeal in the mail. Wanting to know more, we contacted ACRF to ask how they were different to the many other medical and cancer charities were were supporting, and they sent material about the research projects which had been funded that year. 

The process used for the funding grants also appealed to us as it was a thorough and critically peer reviewed process, with a medical science board drawn from experts worldwide using both the written submissions and also the interviews which followed for the short listed projects.

Michael and Anna at the ACRF Chairman’s Dinner

It was also at the time when we had both retired from full-time work and were looking to undertake meaningful volunteer work in addition to our part-time work commitments. We felt that we had had a fortunate life both career and family-wise, and this was the time to contribute back to society. 

For some years, in our permanent positions, we had both arranged the mobile blood banks to come to each of our places of work so we had a commitment to assist valuable charities both in person and kind. 

We had investigated and volunteered for a short period with other charities but not found the work fulfilling. Thus, when we were asked to come to the office and discuss the possibility of committing to volunteering with the small ACRF staff, we decided to give it a go.

In 2019, our chosen charity for our work was fortuitous when our fit, healthy, daughter who does not drink alcohol, has never smoked and runs 10 kms after work most days was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cancer research remains very important to us.  Anna has mentored students whose parents died as a result of cancer as it has a devastating effect on not only the other parent but on the children as well. She developed a close bond with not only the students but also their families trying to assist them to cope with all the emotional issues during the treatments. In addition, the death of parents from cancer also has a devastating impact on children in so many ways.

What is different about ACRF is firstly the organisation has a very small number of staff, around 16 people, all with different skills and all who work incredibly hard to achieve the financial outcomes needed. The fact that ACRF only fund research was another important aspect of our commitment to ACRF. The staff are all friendly, open to suggestions we have made and very welcoming to the point that we feel part of the organisation when we go to volunteer.”

Remarkable progress: The ACRF Centre for Integrated Systems Biology

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) awarded the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) together with The University of Adelaide $2.5 million in funding in 2018. The funding was used to establish the ACRF Centre for Integrated Cancer Systems Biology, housed within both SAHMRI and within the new Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences (AHMS) building of The University of Adelaide.

Both sites reside within the impressive Adelaide BioMed City precinct, enabling the Institutes’ researchers and their collaborators’ access to efficient pipelines to rapidly translate basic biomedical research discoveries to improved health outcomes. 

Technology Acquired

The granted monies were used to acquire two Tims TOF Pro+ PASEF-enabled mass spectrometers, one housed at SAHMRI complete with Bruker’s state-of-the-art integrated imaging technology (TimsTOF Flex), dedicated to ms imaging and metabolomics.  The second Tims TOF Pro+ is housed at AHMS and dedicated to proteomics and phosphor-proteomics.  The third piece of equipment purchased, also using our contributory funding, was the Helios next generation flow cytometer, also housed at SAHMRI.  

Promising Initial Outcomes

The timsTOF FleX instrument has been operational for six months.

It has already been used in cancer research programs:

  • Prostate cancer lipidomics program to identify the spatial distribution of lipids in a novel prostate model using patient-derived tumour tissue.
  • Project targeting the gut microbiota to improve the safety and efficacy of agonistic cancer immunotherapies.
  • Development of bone marrow MS-imaging for the purposes of studying treatment-free remission in Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia.

ACRF CEO Kerry Strydom visited SAHMRI soon after the unit had been installed and was truly amazed at the incredible difference in imaging made possible by this machine.

This is the improvement made possible by donors like you.

The timsTOF Pro instrument has been fully operational for a month and has been used for:

  • Proteomic data for fundamental research into the underlying molecular biology of cancer metastasis.
  • Studying brain physiology using cell culture methods to study brain tumours.

Nurturing Collaboration

The ACRF Cellular Imaging and Cytometry Core facility is a shared resource laboratory (SRL) and part of the ACRF Innovative Cancer Imaging and Therapeutics Facility.  SAHMRI has 4 major Research Themes: Women & Kids, Aboriginal Health Equity, Precision Medicine and Lifelong Health.

The facility is utilised by researchers from all themes (SAHMRI groups and SAHMRI partner groups) as well as research groups within The University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, Flinders University, The Royal Adelaide hospital, Flinders Medical Centre, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, The Queen Elizabeth Hospitals and the greater South Australian research community.

The Helios CyTOF mass cytometer was installed in July 2019 and has been used to finalize a high dimensional panel for Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia investigating 26 parameters of each cell.

Since its installation, 11 SAHMRI research staff and SAHMRI partners have been extensively trained. Here are some of the bright minds who received the first round of training on the Helios CyTOF mass cytometer (early August 2019). 

To researchers at the ACRF Centre for Integrated Cancer Systems Biology, we thank you for your bold ideas and for your amazing efforts in working together to Outsmart Cancer.

 Pictures left to right Dr Hamilton Fraval (Integrated Science), Thaddaeus Teo (Fluidigm, Field Application Specialist), Dr Randall Grose (SAHMRI, Facility Manager), Dr Marita Broburg (AHMS/SAHMRI), Dr Yazad Irani (SAHMRI, Precision Medicine Theme, Cancer Program), Dr Barbara McClure (SAHMRI, Precision Medicine Theme, Cancer Program) and Dr Raina Wong (Integrated Sciences).

How ACRF is aiding the global research effort on COVID-19

A team of Monash researchers have determined the 3D-structure of a SARS-CoV-2 protein at atomic resolution using the macromolecular crystallography beamlines Australian Synchrotron.

The Nsp9 protein in SARS shares 97 percent of its sequence with its counterpart from COVID-19. The researchers cloned a version of the CoV-19 Nsp9 protein for the experiments.

These structures, which were described in a paper published in the journal bioRxiv, could potentially be used in drug screening and in targeted experiments to disrupt replication of the virus.

Why understanding the protein is vital to the research of a virus

Determining the shape of a protein is a key step in understanding its function and role in replication of the virus.

The Monash researchers also identified a new component of the protein, a macromolecular complex and are in the process of determining how it impacts the function of the protein.  

The COVID 19 virus only produces 27 or so proteins. Scientists across the world are currently trying to understand how to prevent the production of these proteins inside our cells when the virus repurposes our bodies to promote its lifecycle.

Research Fellow Dr Dene Littler, within the laboratory of Prof Jamie Rossjohn from the Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University, has been examining some of the lesser-understood proteins produced by SARS-CoV-2.

One of these, the non-structural protein 9 (Nsp9) is thought to have a role in RNA binding and the related version of the protein in SARS is known to be important for replication of the viral genome.  

“This will be part of a broad strategy by the world’s scientists to develop entirely new drugs that are specifically targeted at corona viral proteins, blocking the virus’s ability to infect and reproduce in human cells,“ said Littler.

The COVID-19 pandemic has called for unprecedented research to be conducted into viruses

“Viruses such as those that cause the common cold haven’t had sufficient health implications before to warrant large scale drug research programs.

However, in the face of the current pandemic that has obviously changed and we are playing a fast-paced game of catch up”.

“Technological developments such as those made possible by the Australian synchrotron spurred the first forays into rational drug design, in which scientists study the structure and function of molecules in order to work out what drugs might bind to them,” explained Littler.

 In the case of viruses, the intent is to limit their ability to reproduce and allow a patient’s immune system to recover and fight the infection.  

Rossjohn said, “This represents the start of an accelerated program of research within Monash that is aimed at developing new anti-viral treatments as well as understanding how the immune system combats this virus”.

How the MX2 beamline is being used for COVID-19 related research

The Australian Synchrotron fast tracked access to the microfocus crystallography beamline (MX2) for the COVID-19 related research.

Using the new ACRF detector on the MX2 beamline, it took approximately 18 seconds to acquire a data set, which was then used to quickly construct a crystal structure of Nsp9,” said Principal scientist Dr Alan Riboldi-Tunnicliffe.

“MX2 has a powerful narrow beam, which enables us to focus on particular parts of a crystal. The instrument’s ability to capture molecular detail enables you to see how crucial interactions, such as binding. This is important in assessing drug interactions,” said Riboldi-Tunnicliffe.

“One of the reasons the research is so interesting is that it does not focus on the established strategy of targeting a protease. Dene looked at Nsp9 because it has an RNA binding site that has been conserved over its evolutionary history. This means it is less likely to mutate in response to an intervention,” said Principal Scientist Dr Rachel Williamson.

The Australian Synchrotron has kept the MX2 beamline operational in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Researchers are able to send samples to the Synchrotron and use the instrument remotely. 

The Synchrotron has received samples relating to CoVID-19 from Australia, Singapore and China to date.

This article originally appeared on the ANSTO website. ACRF has granted $2 million to Australian Synchrotron for the establishment of The ACRF Detector.

Cam swims for cancer research

“My name is Cam and I’m an avid sportsperson. I have been involved in Surf Lifesaving for over 50 years. 

I lived in the UK for many years and always wanted to swim the English Channel. There were very limited opportunities to do so and it just never happened. When I was asked if I would like to attempt the same sort of distance swimming the length of Sydney’s Northern Beaches I jumped at the chance. If I was going to put myself through that pain it seemed people might be inclined to stump up a few dollars to help me raise money for ACRF.

At the end of the race, I was very happy to have completed a personal goal and raised some money. Considering this was done between bush fires, drought, flood and COVID-19 it was incredible that so many people supported me.

Cancer kills over 10 million people worldwide annually – no better reason to help fund research. Everyone knows someone affected by cancer and finding a cure would be unbelievable.”

Feeling inspired? Find out more for fundraising for ACRF here, including ideas to do from the safety of your home.

Behind the Scenes at ACRF: Meet Michael

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. We’re a small but dedicated group committed, as we know you are, to helping to create a world without cancer. Meet Michael – our Planned Giving and Database Coordinator.

“I migrated from Malaysia in 1981 and became an Australian in 1988. We are a family of five with two boys and a girl, all grown up. I’ve been with ACRF for almost six years, having come from a hospitality and data content background. My role with ACRF is two-fold and I report to two managers. I assist with managing the Planned Giving area and it is very humbling and exciting at the same time when we get gifts from Estates. I am also a Salesforce Administrator for our database area; assisting with our appeals, data maintenance, database developments and in-house Salesforce support. I enjoy working with large amounts of data as well as within Excel. We have a very important focus at ACRF on keeping data secure, private and accurate. My attention to detail helps ensure that this is achieved.

Just before joining ACRF, I started living a more active lifestyle and started hiking and running. My most recent hike was to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in December 2019. I also run all sorts of road events – including two marathons. I’m not so much of a trail runner – on my maiden practice trail run I actually ‘stacked it’ – but thankfully only my pride was hurt. These days I include gym workouts for strength conditioning. The rest of my leisure time, I’d spend with the family eating out and spending quality time on road-trips; as well as plenty of movies. I also enjoy ticking off my bucket list – including Great Wall of China and EBC.”

Behind the scenes at ACRF: Meet Renee

With the need for connection being more important than ever before, we’re pleased to share with you some behind-the-scenes action from the ACRF team. We’re a small but dedicated group committed, as we know you are, to helping to create a world without cancer. Meet Renee McCarthy – our Regular Giving Coordinator.

“At ACRF I’m part of the Direct Giving team looking after our amazing Luminaries, our regular givers. I love being able to connect with ACRF supporters over the phone and in-person at lab tours (if you’ve not been on one please get in touch!). Everyone has a connection to cancer in some way and being able to connect with supporters and share stories, I’m inspired every day by their generosity.

I’ve really enjoyed being part of the ACRF team for the past two years. There have been so many great opportunities like travelling to research facilities, getting to meet and hear from world class cancer researchers on the latest cancer research outcomes, meeting and hearing incredible stories of strength and generosity from our supporters.

Outside of ACRF I love pottering around in my garden and spending time at the beach and trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Growing up on the Central Coast I’ve always spent a lot of time at the beach and try to visit as often as I can. I absolutely love to travel and almost always have a trip planned on the horizon. There’s nothing more exciting to me than having a trip to look forward to, getting to experience an entirely new place and cuisine, it’s always such an adventure. My most recent trip was to India at the start of the year where I spent two weeks travelling, eating, drinking chai and attending a wedding.”

Impact Philanthropy 2020

Tuesday 24 March saw the ACRF Philanthropy team breaking new ground online by transitioning an event scheduled for the Melbourne CBD to a Zoom webinar. The launch of Impact Philanthropy 2020 – Aspiring to a World Without Cancer – for 50 minutes on a Tuesday evening had people watching, listening and participating from the comfort and safety of their homes, while top researchers explained the critical role essential funds play in cutting-edge cancer research projects. 

Kerry Strydom, CEO of ACRF officially welcomed guests and panellists to the session, talking about the evolution of the Impact Philanthropy initiative.

Professor Michael Parker from Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne, gave an interesting and informative address on the exciting work and progress to date of the ACRF Facility for Innovative Drug Design, a laboratory funded thanks to ACRF supporters and granted in November 2018. Already research outcomes have been established covering cancers including Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, Neuroblastoma, Ovarian, Gastric and Colon cancers. More work has been planned to cover these cancers together with head & neck cancers, CLL and other B-cell malignancies including B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and non-small cell lung cancer, and also pancreatic cancer, liver cancer and prostate cancer.

Professor Parker explained “Drug discovery takes 15 – 20 years and a lot of that is making sure the drug is suitable and safe to get into human trials. If we do drug repurposing what that means is we’re using a drug that already went through a lot of those stages and has proven to be safe and effective, but we can repurpose that drug sometimes to treat cancers….we’ve actually used drugs that were used in osteoporosis which turn out to be looking like they’re effective for most cancers listed.” 

 “The ACRF investment is just not investment in one Institute or one group of people it is investment in the whole nation because the instruments are accessible to everybody.” 

Professor Clare Scott then spoke with detail and understandable passion about the incredible work they are undertaking at Walter & Eliza Hall Institute to overcome the challenge of cancer complexity and diversity. Announced at the end of last year, the ACRF Program for Resolving Cancer Complexity and Therapeutic Resistance is enabled through the generosity of ACRF supporters and ACRF collaborative partners; whose support was gratefully acknowledged by Professor Scott. 

“The particular goal of our proposal really rested on how to unravel the complexity that we see in human cancers so that we can direct treatment to patients’ individual cancers, but that is a massive challenge and we realised that we needed to take our equipment to the next level.  That wasn’t possible without dedicated equipment funding and who to turn to but ACRF who have the track record in funding that sort of equipment” Professor Scott said. 

The webinar also included an opportunity for the attendees to ask questions of ACRF and the two researchers, receiving their answers live during the session. 

Recordings of the webinar were made available as a recording following the event for those who could not make it. If you are interested to be added to the invitation list for future events, or to listen to the March webinar please email your request to philanthropy@acrf.com.au 

ACRF supporters have said:

“Really interesting and informative webinar” 

“We have just watched your online presentation by those truly amazing scientists who ceaselessly think for the benefit of so many in our community….we listened to the facilitation of so much of their investigations by the invaluable equipment made available to them by the ACRF” 

 “Thank you again for sending through the link of the webinar, I had a chance this afternoon to watch it and found it very interesting and informative. It goes to show how important the investment into research really is.”  

Breastfeeding Linked to Lower Ovarian Cancer risk

An international study involving researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has found women who breastfeed their babies may lower their risk of developing ovarian cancer by almost 25 per cent.

The research also shows the longer a woman breastfeeds, the greater the reduction in risk.

Senior Australian author and head of QIMR Berghofer’s Gynaecological Cancers Group, Professor Penelope Webb, said breastfeeding was associated with a lower risk of developing all ovarian cancers, including the most lethal type called high-grade serous tumours.

“Overall, the risk of developing ovarian cancer dropped by 24 per cent for women who breastfed, and even those who breastfed their children for three months or less had about an 18 per cent  lower risk of developing ovarian cancer,” Professor Webb said.

“Mothers who breastfed their children for more than 12 months each had a 34 per cent lower risk.

“Importantly, this benefit of breastfeeding lasted for at least 30 years after a woman stopped breastfeeding.”

More than a thousand women died from ovarian cancer in Australia in 2019, accounting for almost five per cent of female cancer deaths last year, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Only about 45 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive at least five years after their diagnosis.

Professor Webb said the international study involved researchers from the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium, who examined data from 9973 women with ovarian cancer and 13,843 control women from studies conducted around the world.

“Some past studies have linked breastfeeding to a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, but others found no association, so we wanted to look at this in a much bigger study to clarify the relationship,” she said.

“The study results show a link between breastfeeding and reduced ovarian cancer rates, and reinforce the World Health Organization’s recommendations that mothers should exclusively breast feed for at least six months if they can and continue doing so, with the addition of complementary foods, for two or more years.

“The research also shows that breastfeeding for even a short period of time may help reduce cancer risk.

“This study builds on previous work conducted at the Institute that found that breastfeeding was also associated with a lower risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the womb).”

Professor Webb said more research is now needed to identify how breastfeeding affects cancer risk.

The study results have been published in the journal JAMA Oncology.

This article originally appeared on the QIMR Berghofer website. ACRF has given QIMR Berghofer $7.05 million in grants for cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

The Hume Shavers

Our Shave team took the name ‘the Hume Shavers’ after the Hume electorate we all live in and given the broad range of community groups we come from. We initially comprised of a serving local Police officer (myself), the Primary School Principal of Goulburn North Public School, a student of Goulburn North Public School – Lucy W and Mulwaree High School student Emily W. 

Lucy first floated the idea to shave with her mum, thinking of her Gran and battle with cancer a few years back. Also in her mind was her great aunt that passed from cancer, and her great uncle, who recently battled and beat bowel cancer. 

Foremost in her mind was that her gran lost her hair during treatment and Lucy remembered her sadness during this time, being an appearance-proud woman. 

She asked if I would shave with her as she was frightened of being up there alone and that she may be bullied for her choice to shave. I agreed and approached the principal of her school to see if they would host the event. Not only did they agree to host and support her, the Principal Leonie agreed to shave her head with Lucy and I! Who could say no to a motivated empathetic and beautiful little girl like that!  

Whilst having her teeth cleaned Lucy shared her story with the dentist, the receptionist from Goulburn Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice, Nadia, who agreed to shave should we reach $10000.   

Emily, Lucy’s 14 old sister was not quite brave enough to shave but agreed to cut an inch of her hair for every hundred dollars raised and if more than $12000 was raised in total cut to her shoulders.  

As the shave date came closer a number of other community members came on board. We also had teacher John Webb (shaving his beard and head if we made over $12000) Lambert Karate Dojo Sensei David Lambert and I, each indicating that Lucy and her bravery was the reason for their decision to come on board. 

Emily cut to her shoulders keeping with her earlier promise. The school hosted an ice cream and crazy hair day to compliment our fundraising efforts, passing a bucket around on the day to smash the $12000 mark.  

We chose to raise money for ACRF as it is a multifaceted cancer research foundation. Many charities support a particular cancer type and provide support for those impacted by caner. The fundamental difference with the ACRF is that it is a research foundation that targets prevention of cancer, and provides hope for cures.

Government funding does not sufficiently support what is one of the biggest killers of our time. Without research cures will not be found, lives will not be saved.  

ACRF would like to thank the incredible Hume Shavers for their efforts to help Outsmart Cancer. If you’re interested in shaving for cancer research, find out more here.

New drug combination could support better cancer treatments

Researchers from the University of Queensland have identified a promising new drug combination that could significantly help the immune system target cancer cells and kill them.

The study published in Cell, describes a treatment that works by combining an intravenous dosage of a well known anti-nausea drug, prochlorperazine (called Stemetil in Australia), with existing cancer treatments. 

University of Queensland scientist Associate Professor Fiona Simpson, who led the exhaustive research project, said it could lead to new treatments for some cancers. 

Dr Simpson has spent the past decade working on the research project, a tribute to her mother who she lost to cancer in 1999.

“The anti-nausea drug works by changing the surface of the tumour cells so that existing cancer drugs which target tumours are better able to interact with the immune system,” Dr Simpson said.

“The result is that cancer cells become sitting targets that can no longer escape the immune system.

“We observed a process we haven’t seen before and which increased the ‘natural killer’ immune cells’ ability to attach to, and kill the cancer. It is almost as if the killer cells become zipped to the tumour cells.”

The treatment can be combined with and improve the effectiveness of existing cancer drugs like cetuximab, trastuzumab and avelumab and was studied on tumours from head and neck, breast and metastatic colorectal cancers in mice, as well as five patients with head and neck cancer.

“These heroic patients volunteered for a ‘no benefit trial’, consenting to have a tumour biopsy followed by a 20-minute intravenous transfusion of Stemetil, and then another biopsy,” Dr Simpson said.

“We were able to show that the Stemetil altered the tumour cell surface in these patients.”

Following the initial findings, the researchers combined Stemetil with an anti-cancer antibody drug resulting in the disappearance of all the tumours from ten mice with head and neck cancer.

Dr Simpson was curious to see what would happen if they re-introduced the same cancer back into the mice four weeks later.

“Amazingly, their cancer was rapidly eliminated – as if the new combination, in addition to being more effective, was also able to teach the immune system how to better recognise cancer cells,” Dr Simpson said.

“The mice developed a long-term immunity to the cancer they initially had.”

The Fiona Simpson Cancer Research group has been working with expert immunologists including UQ’s Dr James Wells to translate the research findings to patient treatments.

“Our long-term vision is to use this approach to not only clear a patient’s cancer in the immediate term, but to prevent their cancer coming back in the future by establishing protective ‘immune memory’,” Dr Wells said.

Dr Simpson’s team is now completing a safety trial of the combination of Stemetil and cetuximab in head and neck cancer, triple-negative breast cancer and adenoid cystic carcinoma patients at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

The collaboration involved researchers and doctors from UQ’s Diamantina Institute and Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The Princess Alexandra Hospital, Children’s Medical Research Institute, The University of Newcastle and The University of Sydney.

The University of Queensland’s technology transfer company UniQuest will seek to identify commercialisation opportunities.

This article originally appeared on the University of Queensland website. ACRF has provided $17.1 million in funding to University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute, including a major $9.9 million grant for research into melanoma.

New technology helps in hunt for new cancer drug combinations

A revolutionary new technology has been applied to reveal the inner workings of individual cancer cells – potentially identifying more effective treatment combinations for people with cancer.

A joint Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Stanford University team used a technique called mass cytometry (also called CyTOF) to simultaneously analyse the levels of more than 20 different proteins in millions of individual blood cancer cells. This revealed how these cells responded to different anti-cancer medicines, even suggesting potential new treatment combinations.

The research team hope that the new technique could be integrated into clinical trials both to understand why some patients are resistant to anti-cancer therapies, and to predict suitable ‘biomarkers’ for matching patients with the most effective therapies for their disease.

The study was led by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers Dr Charis Teh and Associate Professor Daniel Gray, in collaboration with Professor Garry Nolan and Dr Melissa Ko from Stanford University, US.

At a glance

  • A new technique called mass cytometry, or CyTOF, is providing new insights into a range of key proteins in blood cancer cells.
  • By studying the blood cancer myeloma, researchers were able to understand why some cells were not killed by standard anti-cancer drugs, and to devise a more effective therapy.
  • The team hope to apply their mass cytometry protocol to current clinical trials to better understand why some cancers are resistant to anti-cancer therapies, and to match these patients to other, potentially more effective, treatments. 

Discovering vulnerabilities in myeloma

Cancers are made up of millions of individual cells which are all similar, but not exactly the same. Until recently almost all studies of cancers looked at the cells grouped together, missing any potential differences between individual cells, said Dr Teh.

“We wanted to better understand the molecular differences between individual cancer cells so we could discover how these differences impact the cancer’s response to therapies – for example, whether some cells are more resistant than others to an anti-cancer drug,” Dr Teh said. “We decided that a new technology, called mass cytometry, would be an ideal approach to address this question.”

Mass cytometry can simultaneously measure the quantity of different proteins in a single cell. With funding support from the Australian-American Fulbright Commission, Dr Teh was able to visit Stanford University to learn the technology and develop a test that measures a range of proteins known to regulate cancer cell survival, division, signalling and growth.

“The system we developed simultaneously and precisely measures 26 separate proteins in a blood cancer cell line derived from myeloma – an incurable cancer of immune B cells,” Dr Teh said. “We focussed on understanding why some cells are sensitive to anti-cancer agents, while others are resistant.

“We used machine learning to analyse the mass cytometry results of thousands of cells, and were able to distinguish which cells survived treatment with standard medicines used to treat myeloma – and see how they differed from cells that were sensitive to these medicines,” she said.

The team pinpointed the protein MCL-1 as a key factor determining whether cells lived or died when exposed to the myeloma medicines dexamethasone or bortezomib. MCL-1 is a type of protein that can prevent cell death when overproduced in cancer cells.

“Excitingly, there are already drugs in clinical trials that inhibit MCL-1 – and when we tested these against myeloma cells, we found the MCL-1 inhibitor made the cells more sensitive to dexamethasone. This was even the case in myeloma samples taken from a patient – our system had identified a potential new therapeutic approach for myeloma,” Dr Teh said.

A new approach

Mass cytometry may even have a role in providing real-time detailed analysis of patient samples from clinical trials, Associate Professor Gray said.

“The panel of markers developed in this study gives researchers considerable scope to understand how cancer cells are responding to anti-cancer therapies – and as we found, it can even help to identify better drug combinations,” he said.

“Adding mass cytometry to the analysis of clinical studies could reveal why some patients respond to therapies differently from others, and how resistance to anti-cancer medicines can develop in a small fraction of cancer cells.

“Mass cytometry could also identify a small number of proteins that can be used as specific ‘biomarkers’ that can predict a patient’s response to therapy, and be used to match that patient with the most effective treatments. We’ve already started collaborations with our clinical colleagues to investigate this possibility further,” Associate Professor Gray said.

The research was published in the journal Cell Death & Differentiation.

This article originally appeared on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. ACRF has given $9.1 million to WEHI for world class cancer research technology, thanks to the generosity of our donors.

New front opened in fight against common cancer driver

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers have revealed a new vulnerability in lymphomas that are driven by one of the most common cancer-causing changes in cells.

The team revealed that the protein MNT is required for the survival of lymphoma cells that are driven by the protein MYC. Up to 70 per cent of human cancers – including many blood cancers – have high levels of MYC, a protein which forces cells into abnormally rapid growth.

The research, led by Professor Suzanne Cory, Dr Hai Vu Nguyen and Dr Cassandra Vandenberg, suggests that potential therapies targeting MNT could be effective new treatments for MYC-driven cancers.

At a glance

  • The majority of human cancers are driven by high levels of the protein MYC, but it has been challenging to develop new medicines that directly inhibit MYC.
  • Our researchers revealed that MYC-driven lymphoma cells rely on the protein MNT for their survival, and without MNT the cells rapidly die.
  • The results suggest that inhibiting MNT might be an effective new approach for treating MYC-driven cancers.

A new target

High levels of the MYC protein are found in up to 70 per cent of human cancers. MYC controls hundreds of genes, driving rapid cell production, said Professor Cory, who has studied MYC-driven cancers since the early 1980s.

“For many years we hoped for a drug that could directly target MYC as a potential cancer treatment, but to date such inhibitors have been disappointing in the clinic,” she said. “It became clear we needed to look for other vulnerabilities in MYC-driven cancers.”

The team successfully identified a new target for tackling MYC-driven cancers by homing in on the role of a protein related to MYC, called MNT. Their research was published today in the journal Blood.

By deleting the gene encoding MNT from MYC-driven lymphocytes – the type of immune cell from which lymphomas arise – we found that MNT played a significant role in MYC-driven lymphoma development, Dr Vandenberg said.

“In our laboratory models, the incidence of MYC-driven lymphomas was greatly reduced when MNT was absent. This showed us that MNT had a vital role at some stage during lymphoma development,” she said.

“That role became clear when we found that pre-cancerous cells lacking MNT had high levels of apoptotic cell death,” said Dr Nguyen. “Thus, MNT is required to keep MYC-driven cells alive.”

Towards better treatments

Dr Nguyen said that the team went on to examine the impact of depleting MNT from fully malignant MYC-driven lymphomas. “When we did this, we saw that the tumour cells rapidly died,” he said. “This suggests MNT could well be a promising new therapeutic target for MYC-driven lymphomas.”

Professor Cory said the researchers would now look at whether MNT was important in other MYC-driven cancers.

“Inhibiting MNT may also make tumours more susceptible to other drugs such a BH3-mimetics which directly target the cell’s death machinery.

“Although a lot of work remains to be done to develop and test a new MNT-inhibiting therapy, our discovery opens up a new front in tackling MYC-driven cancers,” Professor Cory said.

The research was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the US-based Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, philanthropic support to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Victoria Government.

This article originally appeared on the WEHI website. ACRF has granted WEHI $5.5 Million for world-class cancer research technology and equipment.

Global collaboration predicts nearly 200 genes that affect breast cancer risk

An international study, co-led by Queensland researchers, has concluded that 191 genes are likely to affect a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

The research – led by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Cambridge University and Harvard University – is the world’s most comprehensive analysis of genetic breast cancer risk to date.

It involved collaborators from 278 institutions from around the world.

Joint-lead researcher and QIMR Berghofer Senior Scientist, Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench, said the genes identified could potentially be targeted with drugs in the future.

“The 191 genes were located in 150 different regions of the human genome,” Professor Chenevix-Trench said.

“While these genes had previously been identified, about 180 of them had never been linked to breast cancer risk.”

The research builds on a 2017 study, co-led by QIMR Berghofer, which identified 150 regions of the genome that were associated with breast cancer risk.

“This time we looked more closely at what was going on in those gene regions,” Professor Chenevix-Trench said.

“By homing in on thousands of genetic variants at those 150 regions, we were able to predict which genes those variants were activating.

“This research gives us a clearer picture of the genetic complexity of breast cancer and will improve our ability to predict who is at risk. We hope that will lead to better screening and early intervention.”

Professor Chenevix-Trench said they hoped scientists could use this information to develop or identify drugs that target the 191 genes.

“Another significant finding is that many of the genes we identified also play an important role in the immune system, which suggests that the immune system is critical in breast cancer risk,” she said.

“A lot of people are looking at the immune system in terms of treatment with immunotherapies, but until now, there has been little evidence that the genes that control the immune system also affect a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer.”

The study incorporated recent research by QIMR Berghofer researchers Associate Professors Stacey Edwards and Juliet French, which provided further insight into the underlying biology of the genetic risk of breast cancer.

“However, more work is still needed to confirm that each of those 191 genes affects breast cancer risk,” Associate Professor Edwards said.

Associate Professor French said given breast cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian in 2019, it was important to find new targets for treatments.

“Although diagnosis of breast cancer is getting better, breast cancer is still the second leading cause of cancer death for women in Australia, so we need to keep improving our understanding of it and find better ways of treating and preventing it,” Associate Professor French said.

The QIMR Berghofer researchers involved in the study were funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

The study findings were published in January in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.

This article originally appeared on the QIMR Berghofer website. ACRF has given three grants to QIMR Berghofer totalling over $7 Million for world-class cancer research.

New Drug Limits Cancer Spreading

A research team from Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research that recently invented a drug to stop blood vessels from forming a treatment resistant barrier around some cancers has now discovered the drug can be used to prevent the cancer from spreading.

“We originally developed the drug to overcome a problem in some cancers that grow a chaotic barrier of blood vessels in the tumour which prevents the body’s immune cells and treatments like chemotherapy entering the tumour,” said Professor Ruth Ganss Co-Head of the Cancer and Cell Biology Division at Perth’s Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

“The drug also sets-up lymph-node-like structures within the cancer to draw in a patient’s immune system and greatly enhance a patient’s own capacity to shrink the cancer.

“What we’ve since discovered is that by ‘normalising’ blood vessels the drug also stops cancer spreading because it counteracts the cancer’s influence on blood vessels in other parts of the body.

“Cancer spreads when cancer cells travel through the bloodstream and settle and grow in other organs, like the lung or brain.

“They are able to establish themselves in a distant body part because the primary tumour secretes substances that make blood vessels in other organs ‘leaky’, or easier to penetrate.

“So when cancer cells travel in the blood stream they typically settle and grow where there are optimal conditions that have actually been created by the primary tumour.

“The primary tumour effectively ‘talks’ to the site where the metastasis is going to form so when the floating cancer cells arrive, they find a nice cosy environment in which to grow.

“While this behaviour of cancer was already known, what we have discovered is that we can interfere with this process because of the way this new drug affects blood vessels.

“We’ve discovered it restores the leaky vessels which results in the cancer cells flowing past and not setting up shop.

“For a patient this means that in future it will be possible to remove the primary tumour, then use the new drug to prevent cancer cells in the blood system from successfully attaching themselves to another organ and growing.

“But, if the cancer cells have already settled elsewhere and started growing then the drug can also be used to increase the number of immune cells brought into the new tumour to help it shrink.”

“So we now have a drug that not only opens up the primary tumour for increased immunotherapy and greater treatment access, but it prevents metastatic spreading and if the cancer has already spread, then the drug escalates the patient’s immune response to the new cancer.

“We now know we can interfere early and late in a cancer’s journey,” Professor Ganss said.

Co-author on the publication, Dr Bo He who undertook laboratory work on the drug said the research focused on metastatic cancer because most patients succumb to secondary cancers, not the primary.

“Using the drug that the team developed and published in 2017 in Nature Immunology we explored whether it could prevent metastases as well as improve patient immune response”.

“We’re quite excited that we have moved into a different phase of exploring how this drug could be used.

“So far we’ve successfully applied it to melanoma and lung cancer models in a metastatic setting”, said Dr He.

The research has been published in the internationally renowned scientific journal, Cell Reports and can be viewed at Cell Reports homepage.

This article originally appeared on the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research website. ACRF has granted $1.75 Million to fund three pieces of equipment, including a high throughput next-generation DNA sequencer and equipment to isolate single cells from a patient’s tumour.

Hormone resistance in breast cancer linked to DNA ‘rewiring’

Garvan researchers have revealed changes to the 3D arrangement of DNA linked to treatment resistance in ER+ breast cancer. Epigenetic changes occur in the DNA of breast cancer cells that have developed a resistance to hormone therapy, an effective treatment for ER+ breast cancer, which accounts for 70% of all diagnoses.

Reversing these changes, researchers say, has significant potential to help reduce breast cancer relapse.

A team led by Professor Susan Clark at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research showed that the 3D structure of DNA is ‘rewired’ in hormone resistant ER+ breast cancers, altering which genes are activated and which genes are silenced in the cells. The researchers published the findings today in the journal Nature Communications.

“For the first time, we’ve revealed crucial 3D DNA interactions that are linked to whether or not a breast cancer is sensitive to hormone therapy,” says senior author Professor Clark, who is Garvan’s Genomics and Epigenetics Research Theme Leader. “Understanding this process reveals new insights into how ER+ cancers evade hormone therapy, allowing them to grow uncontrolled.”

Tackling hormone resistance in breast cancer

The sex hormone estrogen can be an inadvertent driver of cancer growth – ER+ breast cancers grow when estrogen ‘docks’ to their cells. Treatment that blocks estrogen, known as hormone therapy, is successful at stopping cancer growth and reducing relapse, however many breast cancers become resistant to the treatment over time.

“Treatment resistance is a significant health problem that leads to a third of all ER+ breast cancer patients on hormone therapy relapsing within 15 years,” says the study’s first author Dr Joanna Achinger-Kawecka.

“We are interested in epigenetic changes to DNA, the layer of instructions that organises and regulates DNA’s activity, that underpin the development of hormone resistance in breast cancer. Understanding these fundamental changes may help guide development of future treatments that either prevent resistance from developing, or reverse it once it has occurred.”

Uncovering hidden changes to DNA

Using chromosome conformation capture, a cutting-edge technique that provides a snapshot of how DNA is arranged and interacts in three dimensions in the cell, the researchers compared different ER+ breast cancer cells that were either sensitive or resistant to hormone treatment.

“Between breast cancer cells that were still sensitive to hormone treatment and those that had developed resistance, we saw significant changes in 3D interactions of DNA regions that control gene activation. Including at genes that control the estrogen receptor levels in the cells,” says Dr Achinger-Kawecka.

“Further, we found that this 3D ‘rewiring’ occurred at DNA regions that were methylated, which is an epigenetic change that the team has already linked to hormone resistance.”

The researchers say that the altered DNA methylation at critical regulatory regions may explain how the 3D structure of DNA is rewired as a cancer cell develops hormone resistance, allowing the cancer to better evade treatment.

A new path for breast cancer treatment

“Cancer cells are always trying to outsmart therapy and it only takes one cell to evolve a different way to bypass a drug to cause a relapse in cancer,” says Professor Clark. “Our study shows us just how much impact a change in the epigenome can have on cancer cell behaviour.”

The researchers say the next step is to investigate whether epigenetic changes could be reversed to stop hormone resistance, using existing drugs that are already in clinical trials for other cancers, including lung and colorectal cancer.

“Once ER+ breast cancer patients become resistant to hormone therapy, it is more difficult to treat,” says Professor Clark. “We hope our research will help lead to combination treatments that allow women to take hormone therapy for longer, giving them better clinical outcomes.”

This article originally appeared on the Garvan Institute of Medical Research website. ACRF has granted $6.1 Million for cutting-edge cancer research, including breast cancer.

Leigh ‘Plays for a Cure’

“Leigh Martyn has been touched by cancer. She had the very unfortunate experience of losing several close friends to cancer in 2009, on top of already having lost her father, step-father and best friend to the deadly disease. She founded Play for a Cure the following year.

Leigh has played a substantial role in Australian Softball for many years, having been a player, manager, coach or administrator. She had the vision to combine her passion and contacts in sport to create a foundation that would fundraise to help cancer research and patients — so more people would not have to suffer the same fate.

And such, Play for a Cure Foundation was established, hosting sporting events that fundraise for cancer research. Softball, golf days and even 58km marathons, their sporting scope is far-reaching.

Play for a Cure regularly host the Yellow Socks Softball Challenge, where they invite sporting greats to participate in a friendly game of softball. A few years ago they played against a star-studded line up of Brisbane Broncos legends, including Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis.  Their biggest fundraiser now, is their annual dinner where a host of superstars, including research scientists, have spoken and entertained the supporters that Play for a  Cure call their army of #teamp4ac supporters.”

Australian Cancer Research Foundation would like to thank Leigh for her generous and continued support in raising a total of $92 500 to date for world-class cancer research. We are touched by your dedication to supporting our mission and would like to congratulate you for such an incredible achievement.

New strategy to stop melanoma spread

Scientists from the Centenary Institute have developed a new therapeutic strategy that could potentially help the fight against advanced-stage melanoma.

In a study just released, the scientists were able to show that they could effectively reduce the migration and invasive properties of melanoma cells. This was achieved by successfully inhibiting the interaction between two proteins involved in intracellular trafficking (the process by which molecules cross the membranes of living cells).

The research is significant as metastasis–the process by which cancer moves to new areas of the body–is the leading cause of death in melanoma patients.

Published in the highly regarded Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the researchers first found that high expression of the protein melanophilin was indicative of poor prognosis in melanoma patients.

Employing human melanoma cell line models, the researchers were then able to demonstrate a significant reduction in the spread of cancer by blocking the ability of melanophilin to bind with the protein RAB27A (one of the critical regulators of intracellular transport).

“We have known for some time that the proteins melanophilin and RAB27A bind together and that this process could be crucial to help melanoma cells spread around the body,” said lead study author and Centenary Institute PhD researcher (Immune Imaging Program), Mr Dajiang Guo.

“By disrupting the binding of these two proteins with a recently developed blocking compound (BMD-20), we were able to successfully restrict the melanoma cell movement and invasion. What our findings suggest is that the development of new drugs that can specifically target melanophilin-RAB27A interactions are a promising target for advanced melanoma treatment,” he said.

Senior study author Dr Shweta Tikoo also from the Centenary Institute (Immune Imaging Program) notes that there is an unmet need for novel therapeutic strategies which can be developed as a standalone drug or as part of a combination therapeutic regimen in the battle against advanced melanoma.

“Melanoma has one of the highest mortality rates in the western world with the disease accounting for approximately 1,500 deaths in Australia every year. It is also the most common form of cancer affecting young Australians, those individuals aged from 15 to 39 years old,” she says.

This article originally appeared on the Centenary Institute website. ACRF has granted $5 million to Centenary Institute for world-class cancer research.

Melanoma risk in young Australians goes beyond the burn

Australians with melanoma detected before they turn 40 are more likely to have the cancer on non-sun damaged parts of the body compared to people diagnosed when older.

University of Queensland research found melanoma in places where sunburn was less common, such as the thighs, abdomen, buttocks and lower back, were more common in younger patients.

Diamantina Institute PhD candidate Dr Erin McMeniman said while younger melanoma patients had a greater likelihood of non-sunburn cancer due to their genetics, sun was still the greatest danger. 

“It’s important for young people to be aware, particularly if they have more than 20 moles, that they have increased risk and that melanomas can grow in areas without visible sun damage.”

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and affects more than 13,000 Australians each year.

The study took DNA samples and photographs from 585 volunteers with a history of one of more melanoma. 

It showed people with multiple melanomas were more likely to have mutations in three genes, including the red hair gene.

“Melanoma patients are born with genetic mutations which make them more vulnerable to sun damage.

“If you live in Queensland and carry the CDKN2A mutation, the most well-known melanoma gene, you have about an 80 per cent risk of developing melanoma, whereas if you live somewhere getting very little sun, it might be much lower, or approximately 50 per cent.”

Genetic testing could help identify individuals carrying mutations and ensure they get appropriate monitoring, with early detection improving the chances of survival.

It should be considered if a person has been diagnosed with three or more melanomas, or if they have had at least one melanoma and two or more affected relatives.

“Genetic testing for melanoma isn’t available in the public system yet, but I think that will change in the future,” Dr McMeniman said.

“If people are concerned, they should see their GP or dermatologist for a risk assessment and if they are at high risk they will typically be seen every 6 -12 months for a full skin examination.

“Of course, go to the doctor sooner if any marks grow or change in colour or shape – if in doubt, get it checked out.”

Australian Cancer Research Foundation has provided $19.1 million in funding to University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute, including a major $9.9 million grant for research into melanoma.

This article originally appeared on the University of Queensland website.

Macedonian Community Newcastle

“The Macedonian Community Newcastle have always been very conscious of the need to fundraise generously for good causes. In 2019, a long-standing committee member, Nick Zulumovski, nominated to hold our first ever Charity Ball to raise funds for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. A fundraising committee was formed that planned and coordinated all details including sponsors, music, prizes, advertising and media.

The event was black tie and spectacular with attendees dressing up for a good cause. ACRF representative Liviana Oprea also attended and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. A photo booth was available to record the fun memories, great raffles all throughout the evening and the night consisted of both traditional Macedonian music and popular English music.

Nick Zulumovski was very vocal in choosing this charity as a result of close family and friends who’ve been affected by cancer. As a community, we all know someone who is been affected by this awful disease and the decision was supported by all the committee.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to our sponsors, donors, guests and everyone who contributed to making the night such a wonderful and successful event!”

Australian Cancer Research Foundation would like to extend our deepest thanks to all who contributed to such a successful event, and to Macedonian Community Newcastle for the generous support.

New drug breaks down the ‘barbed wire’ around some cancers

Perth researchers discover way to enhance immune response and drug treatment of stiff, difficult-to-treat solid cancers.

Some solid tumours are so stiff they make a cracking noise when they are cut by researchers on the laboratory bench.

The fibrous nature of liver, pancreatic and some breast cancers make them difficult to treat. However, five years of research by a team of Perth scientists has resulted in the development of a novel, non-toxic agent that can deliver drugs to the cancer cells embedded in the fibrous matrix.

Research published in EMBO Molecular Medicine showed a non-toxic therapeutic agent boosted immune cells to
selectively remove the fibrous scar tissue allowing cancer treatments to reach their target.

Dr Juliana Hamzah, head of the Targeted Drug Delivery, Imaging and Therapy Laboratory at the Harry Perkins Institute
of Medical Research said by breaking down the fibrous matrix of stiff tumours the patient’s own immune system paved the way for drug treatments to take effect.

“The cancer is like a wound, and a way that our body tries to repair the wound is to grow a scar tissue around it, but that scar tissue makes it very difficult to get to the cancer cells to destroy them.

“It is stiff, non-cellular, has very few blood vessels and impenetrable. The scar tissue is not only a physical barrier but it constricts blood vessels which are key pathways for delivering cancer treatment.

“The barrier around some cancers, such as liver cancer, pancreatic cancer and some breast cancers is like barbed wire.

“We have developed a non-toxic agent that does not affect surrounding healthy tissue.

“The agent activates immune cells to release enzymes that digest the scar tissue. This allows more cancer-killing immune cells to enter the tumour. Our results show that removal of the fibrous tissue dramatically eliminates the drug delivery barrier.

“Tumours treated with the drug we’ve developed are more permeable to anti-tumour immune cells and cancer treatments”, Dr Hamzah said.

The research data have been validated in four laboratories including the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth, the School of Engineering at The University of Western Australia, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, California, USA, and the University California Davis, California, USA.

Dr Hamzah says that now the drug has been proven to have a positive impact on fibrosis, or scar tissue, she is investigating whether it can be used to prevent malignant cancer by treating the early stages of fibrosis in liver cancer.

“If you take liver cancer, it doesn’t start immediately as cancer, it starts as fibrosis, cirrhosis, which then develops into liver cancer.

“Because chronic tissue fibrosis can lead to cancer we aim to investigate whether early treatment with our drug of the pre-cancerous stage, such as liver fibrosis, could prevent development of malignant cancer.

Testing of the drug is due to commence using human tissue biopsies. 

This article originally appeared on the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research website. Australian Cancer Research Foundation has granted $5.4 million to Perkins for cutting-edge cancer research infrastructure and equipment.

The Golden Divot

“The Golden Divot Golf Fundraiser has been run and won for another year. Our golf tournament started 19 years ago, by a couple of mates, as an excuse to get together after leaving school. Year after year the tournament grew, due to the friendly, but competitive, nature of the day.

At the tournament’s peak, we had close to 50 starters, both men and women, who were trying to win what we call the World’s Fifth Golfing Major. The Tournament expanded quickly, so we decided the proceeds should start going to charity. This led us to our mission: ‘Provide a memorable local golf event, with a charitable outcome, that punches well above its weight!’

This year we put together the Tournament shortly after the passing of two people that have contributed to our history for many years. Put together a list of former players, (our nearest and dearest), who have passed due to cancer in recent years, and our choice to donate to the Australian Cancer Research Foundation was an obvious choice.

We were able to scramble together a field of 39 players this year, and with a number of clubhouse fundraisers, and a presentation (including The Green Jacket Ceremony), managed to raise $2107.90. The generosity of our local sponsors was matched by the players who helped reach the above-mentioned outcome. 

2020 marks the 20th Annual Golden Divot Tournament. The organising has already begun. We want to exceed all previous records in numbers, and amounts raised for charity.

We thank you all for the great work the ACRF do in helping fight this awful disease.”

Interested in making a difference in the lives of those around you? Learn more about fundraising for Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

Geelong Region Cancerians support life-saving cancer research

Pictured (left to right) Tim Birchall (Treasurer), Michelle Challis (Vice-Chair and Secretary), Helene Bender (Chair), Phillipa Challis (Founder), Andy Pobjoy (committee member and event sponsor).

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the Geelong Region Cancerians, a community group dedicated to helping in our mission to outsmart cancer.

The Geelong Region Cancerians have donated an incredible $25,000 towards life-saving cancer research through a year of hard work and dedication in 2019. Much of this funding has been taken from their inaugural Art Show event.

The group was founded by Phillipa Challis OAM and established by Helene Bender OAM (Chair) in April 2018. Since then their dedication to raising funds and awareness in support of world-class research has been outstanding.

Learn more about ACRF Cancerian Committees

Breana’s Homage to Cancer Research

My name is Breana. Just shy of my fourth birthday, in 1994, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).

The day I was diagnosed I was immediately flown from Canberra to Sydney to begin treatment. The next two and half years were a flurry of many rounds of chemotherapy, countless blood tests, lumbar punctures, and bone marrow biopsies. I was given steroid treatments as well as any number of supporting medications. I lost my hair. But finally, I was considered in remission.

I had missed attending pre−school, kindergarten and almost the entire first grade, but thanks to my team of doctors, nurses and my parents who fought for me the entire time, I was alive. I am one of the ‘lucky ones’. I am a survivor!

Today, at 28 years old, I’m living the best life I can. Although I live with some long-term side effects of my treatment, I have been lucky enough to live a life without relapse. Many are not as lucky, and that is why I will be fronting up and shaving off my locks!

I chose to fundraise for Australian Cancer Research Foundation because they have a wider reach than just one of cancer. But it’s also a homage to my own cancer journey, when losing my hair was beyond my control.

Cancer has affected many aspects of my life, not only on a personal level, but also affecting my family and friends. I have had many loved ones diagnosed with this horrible disease, and whilst some of them have made it through early intervention or diagnosis many have not. More can be done, I believe, to help fund research and treatments so that families can have their loved ones come home.

Research is a vital part of tackling cancer in all forms. Knowledge is power.

Potential new cancer treatment a step closer

QIMR Berghofer researchers have discovered a potential new cancer immunotherapy target that involves switching off a regulatory cell to stop tumours growing and spreading.

The study findings have been published today in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Senior researcher and head of QIMR Berghofer’s Cancer Immunoregulation and Immunotherapy Laboratory, Associate Professor Michele Teng, said in future the discovery could potentially help treat patients with cancers where other current immunotherapies have not worked.

“Our work on mice shows for the first time that many tumours display the molecule MR1 on their cell surface, and when it’s present, this molecule turns on an important regulatory cell that prevents the body’s own immune system from fighting the cancer,” Associate Professor Teng said.

“We found if a type of regulatory cell called MAIT (mucosal-associated invariant T) cells are turned on, they stop immune or white blood cells known as T and NK cells from attacking and killing off tumour cells.

“The cancer is effectively creating its own defence mechanism to evade immune attack and survive. The display of MR1 activates the MAIT cells, which in turn switch off cancer-fighting T and NK cells.

“While other regulatory cells of the immune system are known to stop T and NK cells from killing tumour cells, this is the first time it’s been shown that these regulatory MAIT cells can do this job.”

Associate Professor Teng said her team found that by giving mice an antibody that blocked MR1, this stopped the MAIT cells from becoming activated, and the T and NK cells could respond, slowing cancer growth and stopping it spreading.

“This work demonstrates that antibodies that block MR1 could in future be an effective new immunotherapy,” Associate Professor Teng said.

“It probably won’t work on every cancer, but it looks like it could be effective in treating cancers that can display the MR1 molecule.  It also means this display of MR1 could be used to screen which patients would respond to this immunotherapy.

“We now need to replicate this research in humans.”

Associate Professor Teng said while the research was at a very early stage and required more work, it was promising.

“The next step is to try to understand what kind of human tumours display MR1 as a protective mechanism, which would then help us identify which tumours would respond best to MR1-blocking immunotherapy,” she said.

“Immunotherapies have been effectively used to treat more than 15 different cancer types but the proportion of patients that respond for each cancer can differ.

“In patients with advanced melanoma for example, current approved immunotherapies work in about 50 per cent of cases, but half do not respond, and that’s why we need to find new therapies.”

The research was partially funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, and can be accessed on the Cancer Discovery website.

This article originally appeared on the QIMR Berghofer website. ACRF has given three grants to QIMR Berghofer for world-class cancer research equipment and technology, totalling $7.05 million.

Understanding why men get cancer more than women

While men are known to have a higher risk of developing, and dying from, cancer compared to women – even when matched for other known cancer risk factors like age, race, smoking history and cancer stage – the drivers of this are poorly understood.

To address this apparent sex-disparity in cancer, Dr Sue Haupt and team studied the DNA of men and women diagnosed with 12 different types of non-reproductive cancers. They focused on the gene TP53 – which produces a natural protector of our genome – looking for differences in the mutation of this gene, and irregular behaviour of its partner proteins.

“TP53 is the most commonly mutated gene in human cancer, with more than half of all human cancers harbouring a genetic alteration that interferes with the function of p53 protein,” says Dr Haupt, co-lead author on the study.

The scientists showed, for the first time, that TP53 mutations are more common in males than females, which could account in part for the greater cancer risk in men.

They then focused their search on the X chromosome, as males have only one X chromosome (XY) putting them at higher risk than females (XX) of developing diseases if genes on their X chromosome become dysfunctional.

“By looking specifically on the X chromosome we were able to find – for the first time – a group of p53-regulating genes that we thought could, in part, explain the sex disparity in cancer,” Dr Haupt says.

Using a new computational approach developed by Franco Caramia, co-lead author and a bioinformatician PhD student in the Haupt lab, they found a cluster of genes located on the X chromosome that can affect the activity of p53 protein, even if the cancers don’t have a mutation in TP53 itself.

They found while women have a higher incidence of mutations on the X chromosome, these mutant genes are often not expressed to make proteins. This was particularly true for the p53-regulating genes. In contrast, men commonly express the mutant forms of X-linked p53-regulating genes.

“These findings come together to unveil a fascinating story of safe-guarding of women from p53-induced cancers across three intricate and complex layers of biological protection,” says Dr Haupt.

“First, women are less likely to possess mutations in TP53. Second, the presence of p53-regulating genes on the X chromosome means men are particularly vulnerable to defects in these genes. And lastly, there appears to be a barrier in women that prevents the expression of mutant X-linked p53-regulating genes.”

Prof Ygal Haupt, the study’s senior author, said the findings suggest genetically-assigned sex should be taken into consideration when it comes to risk assessment and potentially even treatment of cancers.

‘For non-reproductive cancers, clinical decision-making rarely takes sex into account. Our results suggest a person’s chromosomal makeup could directly impact whether they will respond to a specific treatment. This can be particularly important for the use of new drugs aimed at reactivating p53, which are currently in clinical trials,” says Prof Haupt.

This Peter Mac-driven research was done in collaboration with scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, MD Anderson Cancer Centre in USA and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

This research is contained in the paper “Identification of cancer sex-disparity in the functional integrity of p53 and its X chromosome network” published in the journal Nature Communications.

This article originally appeared on the Peter Mac website. ACRF has provided $9 million worth of funding to Peter Mac for cutting edge cancer equipment and technology.

Samantha Shaves ‘Shiny Bald’ for ACRF

My name is Samantha and I’m 20 years old. I love acting, dancing and adventures. I have a big heart and always see the best in people. I’m always supported by friends and family. Life to me is a story and I’m trying to write a great one if I help people along the way I couldn’t be happier. I started striking up the conversation with people and found that everyone is guaranteed to know someone who has been affected by cancer, whether that be through work, family, friends or simply someone serving you at a store.

Why Samantha chose to fundraise for ACRF

I chose to fundraise for the ACRF because it supports research into all forms of cancer. It was hard for me to pick just one with so many organisations out there. I know this will touch people’s hearts because it relates to everyone.

Her inspirational decision to shave her head 

I chose to shave because I wanted to make a big impact. I thought “what can I do to make a difference?” So, I went all out and I was determined to go shiny bald if I raised my goal of $700. I wanted to prove that no amount of hair means more to me than this. I was ready for a close shave, a fresh start and to bring hope to everyone.

At least I had a choice to shave my hair as opposed to having no choice and losing it. The statistics are so high that there is a chance I may have cancer throughout my lifetime, the same with everybody. Now if it happens to me in the future, I already know what it’s like to have no hair.

The impact of cancer motivated me to act because they are so staggering. In 2019 there is estimated to be 144,713 new cancer cases diagnosed.

Samantha’s urge for people to fundraise for cancer research

If you’re thinking about fundraising for ACRF and cancer research, ‘think’ no longer. Actions speak louder than words. We are all human and we have passions and the ability to care about important matters involving each other. Whether it’s colouring your hair, shaving, donating or volunteering, it’s as simple as that. You can do it.

My goal was $700 and I raised that in just 3 days. By the fourth day, I had reached $1000, my mind was blown. Before my big shave, I had raised $3000 by word of mouth and sharing on social media. I had collaborated with my local Bracken Ridge Tavern. They were on board, especially because their staff member is currently going through breast cancer.

The night of the shave 

I gathered more than 80 people to this event and held raffles, it was spectacular.
It was an emotional night, I had people come up to me and tell me their cancer stories, some currently happening,

I cried four times before I even shaved my head. I had three extra shavers, including my dad, who surprised me and made me cry. The gaming bar manager also shaved her head for the breast cancer lady on a bid that raised $1,121 in 10 mins.

I have currently $7,150 well more than my original goal and my heart is full of love and support. I feel liberated with my bald head and my hair is growing exceptionally fast but this will be something I will remember for the rest of my life.

Feeling inspired by Samantha’s bravery and ready to raise life-saving funds for cancer research? Find out more about shaving your head for ACRF here.

New Cancer Laboratory Launches

The ACRF Tumour Metabolism Laboratory – part of the ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre – has been officially launched with the laboratory sporting the latest in advanced equipment and technology to help support the innovative cancer research. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally.

The laboratory, established by a $2.5M grant from Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) and in collaboration with the Centenary Institute, is dedicated to the study of tumour cell metabolism, at a molecular level. The team then utilise this knowledge to develop new cancer diagnostics, treatments and cures.

“Cancer cells, like all the cells in our body, require nutrients from our diet to survive and to flourish,” says Professor Philip Hogg, Deputy Director, Centenary Institute and Head, ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre.

“While our healthy cells mostly produce energy from these nutrients, cancer cells use them to suit their malignant purpose – which is to divide as rapidly as they can. They aggressively soak up the nutrients in their environment and convert them into the components of new cancer cells – that is DNA, protein and lipids. The focus of this laboratory is to understand how cancer cells change their metabolism. If we can successfully stop the cancer cells from changing their metabolism then we can use this knowledge as a basis for developing exciting new anti-cancer therapies.”
The state-of-the-art equipment now available to the researchers at the ACRF Tumour Metabolism Laboratory allows for the precise measurement – down to the nanoscale – of the sugars, proteins and lipids that are consumed by the cancer cells.

“Our equipment enables our scientists to remain at the forefront of research in the cancer metabolism field. We have mass spectrometers to measure glucose and lipid metabolites in tumour cells, a specialised microscope to measure glucose metabolism in tumour infiltrating T cells, a live-cell platform for measurement of tumour cell metabolism as well as a hi-tech instrument to measure protein-drug interactions,” says Professor Hogg.

The team of researchers at the ACRF Tumour Metabolism Laboratory have an impressive history of success as well as proven experience in developing potential new therapeutics that have been tested in cancer patients in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“We have gathered a committed team of first-rate cancer scientists who will make discoveries that will that will benefit our children and our children’s children,” says Professor Hogg.

“ACRF is delighted to have backed this program which will return significant research findings. Our support, through the provision of equipment for the research, has been supplemented by a collaborative funding arrangement with Cancer Institute NSW who have assisted with complementary funding for research personnel. We so value the work that Professor Hogg and his team do to help deliver our supporters’ ambition to Outsmart Cancer,” says Kerry Strydom, CEO, Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

QIMR Berghofer Scientists find new Immunotherapy has Promise

Queensland scientists from QIMR Bergfoher are helping to speed up the development of a new type of immunotherapy by discovering how it activates the immune system to fight cancer.

It’s hoped the antibody therapy – which entered phase I clinical trials in the United States in early 2019 – could in future treat a broad range of cancers.

The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Immunology Department, Professor Mark Smyth, and his colleagues have been testing the antibody, which was developed by US company Tizona Therapeutics.

The findings have been published today in the journal Cancer Discovery, a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“This antibody is designed to block the activity of an enzyme called CD39, which sits on the surface of harmful inflammatory cells,” Professor Smyth said.

“Blocking CD39 with the antibody releases an extracellular chemical signal called ATP.

“In laboratory tests, we’ve shown that this sets off a chain of events that ultimately kills the cancer-promoting inflammatory cells and releases proteins – called cytokines – that help immune cells called T cells fight the cancer.

“In other words, the antibody eliminates some of the enemy soldiers and helps to rally the immune system’s own troops.

“We’ve shown that this is a new way we can target the immune system to fight cancer.”

It was already known that CD39 is the first enzyme in a cascade chain reaction that converts ATP into adenosine, a cancer-promoting and immune suppressing metabolite.

“In this study, we have shown in laboratory tests that inhibiting CD39 with an antibody helps to fight cancer, not just by stopping the generation of adenosine, but also through the immune-activating functions of extracellular ATP,” Professor Smyth said.

“Importantly, our laboratory tests have also shown that it works well in combination with existing immunotherapies.”

The team’s findings will help to guide the design of future clinical trials of antibodies targeting CD39.

The study was primarily funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Melanoma Research Alliance and Tizona Therapeutics Incorporated.

This article originally appeared on the QIMR Berghofer website. Australian Cancer Research Foundation has provided three grants for cutting-edge technology to facilitate cancer research, totalling $7.05 million.

Penrith Anglican College supports cutting-edge cancer research

Penrith Anglican College is a Pre-K- 12 school located in Orchard Hills. We believe Service and Community Engagement are vital in developing students to be well-rounded people.

ACRF is close to our heart as many of our students have been affected by the devastating impact of cancer. Year 10 chooses a charity to fundraise for each year. Students nominate a range of charities and voted for the cause they would most like to support, and this year chose to fundraise for Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

Students completed a range of fundraising activities from February – August raising $6000 for ACRF. We held a bake sale, movie and pizza nights, a mufti day, sausage sizzle and breakfast. It turns out teenagers like fundraising with food! Thank you to our school community, especially our parents, for supporting our efforts. The efforts culminated in a Charity Ball, which was a great evening. Our students loved the opportunity to dress up and celebrate the achievements of our fundraising

We want to see a world where no family has to endure the devastating impact cancer has. Research is key to finding a cure, and in the future, preventing cancer. That’s why we support ACRF.

ACRF have been great to work with and a worthwhile cause. ACRF are quite stringent in the way they allocate funds, so we are confident that all our funds raised will be making a direct impact.

We would also like to also say thanks to Signwave for their support in printing our giant cheque.

The Annual Gala Ball to help Outsmart Cancer

It’s going to take all of us to outsmart cancer. This is something that ACRF supporter Thu Thao Le puts into action, and for the second time, she has organised an annual gala dinner to raise funds for cutting-edge cancer research. We’re so thankful for her dedicated support.

On October 11, at Crystal Palace in Canley Heights, the Vietnamese community came together for an evening of entertainment, food and music. A record-breaking 620 guests attended the event.

With different performances including a Lion Dance, and different individual singing acts, the night was a fun-filled and memorable one.

The community gathered together to offer their support for cancer research, and we would like to thank the generous supporters, donors and sponsors, who contributed to make the evening such a successful evening for all.

Many thanks to IGA Dulwich Hill, Home Caring, Maoine Skincare and Vuly Play Trampolines, the sponsors for the evening, and to the MC, Thu Thao Luu and Ms Thu Thao Le.

‘Let’s Beat the Bastard’: the ride to Outsmart Cancer

Wayne is a dedicated ACRF supporter who continually goes above and beyond to support cancer research. His annual event, ‘Beat the Bastard’, is a 400km motorbike route that spans north-eastern NSW, this year travelling through Gunnedah, Bendemeer, Walcha, Uralla, and Manilla.  

Like many of us, Wayne has been touched on a personal level. He shares the reason is so passionate about supporting Australian Cancer Research Foundation below.

“Even after losing my sister, brother in-law, and countless close friends and acquaintances, I really didn’t realise how horrible cancer is, mainly because of the distance we lived apart and the fact I didn’t get to see them in their final months.

Then in 2013 my brother Dale was diagnosed with cancer. Over the course of two years, he underwent major surgery, skin graphs and radiation. He never gave up and was determined to beat the bastard.

Over this time, I witnessed just how destructive and devastating cancer can be.

In early September 2016, Dale told me ‘I think the bastard has me this time mate’. Three weeks later we lost him and over the next couple of months, I found myself in a very dark place, alienating myself from my family and friends, sitting for hours in a haze and each day becoming angrier and angrier knowing this bastard had taken my best mate. To help me with my grief and to be honest out of self-pity, I came up with the ‘Let’s Beat the Bastard’ ride. But after the ride started to gain pace, I realised I wasn’t alone, and I most certainly was not the only person in this situation.

I have been absolutely humbled by the response to the ride and have met some extraordinary people, some who are fighting the fight, some who have won the fight and those whose family or friends have lost the fight.

I am so proud to be a part of this event and urge everyone to get involved and help to raise funds so we can finally beat the bastard!”

A lotto I didn’t want to win’: Sydney mum’s story of breast cancer, chemo and recovery

This article originally appeared on Essential Baby in support of our Women’s Appeal for 2019. To show your support for women like Amelia, donate here.

When Sydney mum Amelia Bromley discovered she was pregnant with her second baby she was ecstatic. After a dream pregnancy with her first son Toby, she and her husband, Justin, were thrilled to be adding to their family. “I was loving being a mum,” Ms Bromley tells Essential Baby.

The happy news continued – Ms Bromley soon learnt that her best friend was also pregnant with her second bub. But though their babies were due just a week apart, their symptoms were very different. While her friend complained of sore breasts, Ms Bromley wasn’t experiencing any soreness at all.

And it left her wondering why. 

Later that evening, while examining her breasts, Ms Bromley found a lump. “It was like a little ball bearing,” she recalls. Thinking it was simply mastitis, a condition she’d experienced before, the 36-year-old expected to be given a script for antibiotics. Instead, her doctor sent her for an ultrasound and a biopsy.

The results came as a shock.

“I was so unconcerned that I’d booked Toby in for his 12-month vaccinations,” Ms Bromley says of the day she was told she had cancer – a type called HER2-positive.

She was seven weeks pregnant. 

“The chances of getting breast cancer under 40 are so slim,” she says. “And the chances of getting breast cancer while you’re pregnant are so slim. It’s a weird version of a lotto I didn’t want to win.”

But while the mum was told by her doctors that treating cancer during pregnancy would be “trickier”, choosing not to have her baby was never an option.

“I said to the doctor, ‘If you’re telling me that I need to make a choice between being pregnant and being treated … do I have to make that choice? Can I have both? Until you tell me I can’t, we’ll take the trickier road.”

Taking the “tricker” road saw Ms Bromley book an emergency appointment with her obstetrician. “I needed someone to make sure my baby was okay,” she says, adding that she had a team of amazing doctors looking after her, but needed someone focusing on her growing bub. “I said to her, ‘I need to know you’ll go into bat for the baby when things get tough.'”

While nine weeks pregnant, Ms Bromley underwent a lumpectomy. “I remember saying to my husband, ‘I’m not going to feel this good for a while,” she recalls. 

What followed was a gruelling course of chemotherapy, which began when she entered her second trimester. “I spoke in detail to both doctors about whether it was safe and I was assured that the placental barrier is stronger than the barrier between the brain and the body, so none of the chemo drugs would get through to the baby.”

Despite this reassurance, however, Ms Bromley says she still found herself worrying about whether the treatment would affect her baby. “Sometimes, I still think, Is that because of the chemo? It’s definitely something that plays a bit of havoc with you, especially while you’re pregnant.”

With her husband often travelling for work, Ms Bromley says she was fortunate to have a network of supportive friends who helped her parent her toddler and care for her two-stepchildren while undergoing treatment. She was also buoyed by the regular scans she saw of her baby. “I think I had more scans than anyone has ever had,” Ms Bromley laughs, explaining that hearing her baby’s heartbeat and seeing her moving, helped her feel “like a pregnant woman and not a cancer mum.”

Baby Beatrice, ‘Bea’ was born on 10 October, 2013 at 33-and-a-half weeks  “She was 10/10,” the proud mum laughs.

 A day after welcoming her daughter, Ms Bromley began radiation – in the same hospital.  “I went from maternity on level three down to the basement,” she says. And, in the blur of those first few days, recovering from a c-section and undergoing radiation – a process she describes as “soul-destroying”, the mum says the baby blues hit – hard.

“I felt guilty,” she says. “It was unexpected. I thought, why am I so upset when I’ve got this baby? But I couldn’t stop crying.”

After four weeks of radiation, five days a week, her treatment was over. 

“You’re not supposed to be sick any more,” Ms Bromley says. “Everyone says, ‘well you should be back to normal’. But in reality it takes a really long time to feel normal again.”

Reaching the five-year milestone last year was a turning point for the executive producer who says it’s only now that she feels comfortable talking about her experience and saying, “I had cancer.” But while “life goes on,” Ms Bromley admits that “it’s always there in the background”.

“I always fear [the cancer] coming back,” she says. “I live with the fear of it returning.” The fear however, is tempered by the knowledge that treatments for cancer are evolving at a rapid rate. “If it was to happen again, the chances are better,” she says. “There are things available now, that weren’t available even for me five years ago. ” 

Photo: Amelia Bromley

Ms Bromley says she’s found strength in sharing her story – and hopes people see it as an uplifting one. “Cancer rates are going up,” she says. “We have to talk about it. If we don’t, we won’t fight it. When it comes to funding it comes down to public awareness.”

And she’s fiercely proud of her family.

“We’ve got through the worst of it,” she continues. “Look at us! Bea started school and she’s doing really well… I want other people to know how fortunate we are to live in a time where you can have horrible things happen and go on to live full, happy, amazing and incredibly ordinary lives.”

Philippa’s Moreton Island Adventure

“My name is Philippa, I am 58 years old and work as a teacher aide at Brisbane School of Distance Education.

When I first planned to do the Moreton Island Walk, an 80km journey circumnavigating Moreton Island in Queensland, it was with a friend for fun. But when we realised it was quite a challenge, we decided it would be something that would be fun to do as a group and that the charity was something that would be well supported.

I gathered a team, and we set off. All the team had lost loved ones to different types of cancer, so supporting ACRF felt very personal. We couldn’t decide which branch of cancer research to raise money for, so decided ACRF was a good compromise as they support research into all types of cancer.

It’s a very rewarding accomplishment to feel that you have made a difference, while doing something that is challenging. But nothing feels like the challenges faced by people with cancer.

We all felt the walk was the hardest thing we had ever done.  We were all proud of our achievements.  I was particularly proud of my two daughters who completed the walk with me. Having done this walk and raised what we considered a significant amount of money we would like to make the walk an annual event and involve more people.”

Feeling inspired and ready to help outsmart cancer? Find out more about fundraising for Australian Cancer Research Foundation here.

Jeremy shaves for ACRF

“My name is Jeremy. I’m a 45-year-old father of two boys, and husband to Tonia. I work in the state head office of Australia Post and coach my youngest son’s soccer team.

Originally, I was just going to shave my head to offer my wife Tonia some moral support as she lost her hair through chemo. She suggested I see if I can use the opportunity to raise some money for cancer research, and I decided to give it a go.

I have a history with cancer, losing my father to pancreatic cancer when I was 19 and my eldest big sister to breast cancer when I was 31.

My other big sister has been fighting breast cancer for nearly ten years and my wife is just starting out on her battle with breast cancer. I myself am a cancer survivor, having had successful treatment for bladder cancer two years ago.

Cancer research provides help not only for my family, but all those affected by cancer. It is such a worthwhile cause and that’s why I chose to fundraise for ACRF by shaving my head.”

Feeling inspired by Jeremy’s bravery and ready to help outsmart cancer? Find out more about hosting a headshave for ACRF here.

Stopping healthy cells from self-destructing

Australian scientists have developed a world-first compound that keeps cells alive and functioning when they otherwise would have died.

The idea that our cells are set to ‘self-destruct’ is not entirely comforting.

But like all things, it is a question of balance.

Known as apoptosis, this process of programmed cell death is essential for keeping the body healthy; it’s triggered when cells are aged and diseased as well as during development.

Programmed cell death is essential for keeping the body healthy, too little can result in cancer. Picture: Getty Images

In the womb, our hands begin as mittens, so apoptosis directs cells between the fingers to die off, thereby forming our digits.

Fast-growing cells like our skin and gut-lining, which also faces strong digestive acids, are replaced most often. The average adult human loses between 50 and 70 billion cells each day due to apoptosis.

Because programmed cell death is irreversible once it has begun, apoptosis is tightly regulated by the body, and this regulation has been the focus of much research as its implicated in the progression of many diseases.

Excessive apoptosis can cause tissues to waste away or atrophy in conditions like muscular dystrophy, whereas an insufficient amount can lead to uncontrolled cell proliferation or growth, resulting in cancer.

Some proteins known as caspases get switched on to promote apoptosis, but this pivotal step is controlled by members of the BCL-2 protein family.

This family of proteins has been the focus of 11 years of collaborative research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, led by Professor David Huang, Professor Guillaume Lessene and Professor Benjamin Kile (now at Monash University).

The team has recently published preclinical findings in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, highlighting their discovery of a unique compound that can keep cells alive and functioning when they otherwise would have died.

Stopping unwanted cell death would be revolutionary in medicine, such as minimising cellular damage after heart attacks. Picture: Getty Images

The point of no return

Within the BCL-2 family of proteins some promote cell survival, while others drive cell death.

Proteins called BAK and BAX are involved in a critical step of cell death known as the ‘point of no return’ because cells are committed to die once either BAK or BAX is activated.

So, key to the team’s research was understanding how to block BAK activation.

They screened an assembled collection of 250,000 potential small drug molecules for ones that blocked apoptosis.

“Our experiment pushed the cells right to the brink of death and looked for compounds that rescued it,” Professor Lessene explains.

“What we found was that when a compound we named WEHI-9625 binds to the protein VDAC2 in the apoptosis pathway, then BAK can no longer trigger cell death,” he says.

“It’s a bit like a when a person under arrest is handcuffed to a police officer, they are unable to run away or do anything much at all.”

The compound WEHI-9625 is now considered a proof-of-concept drug, and the next step for the team is to understand how it interacts with VDAC2 and BAK at a molecular level.

When compound WEHI-9625 binds to the protein VDAC2 in the apoptosis pathway, then BAK can no longer trigger cell death. Picture: WEHI

Intervening before it’s too late

The finding could give clinicians the ability to intervene and prevent cell death, says Professor Lessene.

The new ‘cell death blocker’ is revolutionary in its ability to keep cells alive and healthy in the laboratory, he says.

“This would be game-changing for medical emergencies and procedures, such as minimising cellular damage after heart attacks, or preserving organs for transplants.”

Professor Kile, Head of Anatomy and Developmental Biology at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, says that WEHI-9625 is the first compound identified to successfully override apoptosis and keep cells functioning.”

“We have shown it is possible to halt the biochemical cascade that triggers cell death, right at the point where it begins”.

Invaluable for future of medicine

Professor Huang, a laboratory head in the Institute’s Blood Cells and Blood Cancers division, adds that the ability to stop unwanted cell death could be invaluable for the future of medical care.

“Acute injury can cause cells to die rapidly leading to the loss and weakening of tissues and muscles. In such circumstances, being able to prevent uncontrolled cell death could improve a patient’s recovery, or even their chances of survival,” he says.

The pivotal step that begins apoptosis is controlled by members of the BCL-2 protein family. Picture: Ms. Etsuko Uno, WEHI

“The Institute’s research into cell death spans more than 30 years, beginning with the landmark discovery in the late 1980s that the protein BCL-2 could enable prolonged cancer cell survival. This critical discovery helped to inform the development of an anti-cancer treatment for patients with leukaemia.”

“Our latest research shines light on ‘the other side of the same coin’, offering hope that one day drugs that successfully intervene to block apoptosis could be used to treat conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and degenerative disorders.”

The researchers are now looking to apply the knowledge to developing cell death blockers that are effective and safe in humans.

Professor Huang says the next steps would also involve applying the knowledge to more advanced models of disease.

“There could be applications for keeping cells alive to prevent degenerative diseases,” he says.

The research was supported by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, Brownless Trust, DHB Foundation, HEARing CRC, MuriGen Therapeutics, Sylvia and Charles Viertel Foundation and the Victorian Government.

This article was written by By Dr Nerissa Hannink, University of Melbourne and originally appeared here.

Tassie Devils Hold Clue for How Human Cancers Evade the Immune System

Melbourne researchers from Peter Mac, in collaboration with Cancer Research UK, have uncovered a new way that some human cancers can hide from the body’s immune system, a feature they share with tumours from an unlikely source – the Tasmanian devil.

In this new study just published in the journal Cancer Cell, scientists discovered that some human, mouse and Tasmanian devil cancers can reduce the amount of immune-stimulating MHC Class I (MHC-I) proteins present on their surface, effectively masking them from being recognised and destroyed by killer immune cells.

“By avoiding recognition by immune cells, some cancers can continue to grow unchecked and are less likely to respond to new types of immune-based cancer therapies,” says Dr Marian Burr, who began this research at the University of Cambridge, UK, and completed it at Peter Mac.

“Identifying how and why some tumours undergo this process of hiding from the immune system may help to improve treatment outcomes.”

Peter Mac's Dr Marian Burr
Peter Mac’s Dr Marian Burr

Whether or not MHC-I appears on the cell surface can depend on the activity of other proteins inside the cell. By systematically knocking out all the genes in the human genome using cutting-edge CRISPR-Cas9 technology, the researchers looked for clues as to which proteins were important in controlling MHC-I at the surface.

They found that a group of proteins that collectively form an epigenetic protein complex – known as PRC2 – acts inside the cell to switch off the genes required for MHC-I production.

When they looked in human cancers such as lung cancer, neuroblastoma and Merkel Cell Cancer they found that tumours with high levels of PRC2 proteins had reduced MHC-I and this was associated with an impaired ability of tumour-killing immune cells to recognise these cancers.

What was especially surprising is that they found the exact same process also occurs in mouse models of lung cancer and in Tasmanian devil facial tumours, a deadly cancer of the mouth and face that has decimated the wild Tasmanian devil population.

“Similar to some human cancers, a defining feature of Tasmanian devil facial tumours is a remarkable ability to evade recognition and destruction by the immune system,” says Dr Burr who was lead author on the study.

“This feature of devil facial tumours, and some human cancers, is a powerful mechanism of immune evasion that is conserved in different species throughout the process of evolution.”

When the researchers used targeted drugs to effectively shut down the PRC2 pathway in a mouse model of small cell lung cancer, they found they could re-establish MHC-I expression which led to more effective immune-mediated tumour cell killing.

Professor Mark Dawson, Consultant Haematologist and head of the Cancer Epigenetics group at Peter Mac, said this discovery suggests a new way to make the human immune system see cancers that are currently invisible.

Professor Mark Dawson
Professor Mark Dawson

“The good news here is that suppression of MCH-I in this context is reversible, which means that cancers previously invisible to the immune system could be re-exposed using approaches to increase levels of the MHC-I components,” says Prof Mark Dawson, who is senior author on the study.

“It is hoped this discovery may lead to a rationale for combining drugs that shut down the PRC2 pathway with immunotherapies to treat some aggressive cancers. This is especially important for solid cancers that are notoriously resistant to immune-based therapies, such as small cell lung cancer and some types of paediatric cancers, that have low expression of MHC-I.”

The paper, titled ‘An evolutionarily conserved function of polycomb silences the MHC class I antigen presentation pathway and enables immune evasion in cancer’, has been published online by Cancer Cell.

This article originally appeared on the Peter Mac website. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Australian Cancer Research Foundation has provided four grants to Peter Mac, totalling $9 Million for cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

Publication demonstrates why chemotherapy is only effective in some patients

Researchers at Children’s Medical Research Institute have demonstrated why chemotherapy drugs work better with some types of cancers than with others.

Pragathi Masamsetti, the lead author of a new paper published in Nature Communications, has been studying the pathways of cell death caused by chemotherapy drugs for the past five years after a surprise initial discovery piqued her interest. Now that her PhD is finished, she is optimistic that her research will form the groundwork for other scientific or clinical developments in cancer treatment.

“This research could influence which class of chemotherapy is used for each cancer by giving doctors and scientists a better understanding of how the mutations in each type of cancer respond to various chemotherapy drugs.’’

Chemotherapy drugs work by causing a lethal level of stress on the processes occurring when cells are rapidly dividing, a hallmark of cancerous tissue. But these drugs, which attempt to stop rapid cell division, are a blunt solution and are not always effective.

“Chemotherapy can be very powerful in the right situation, but we are only beginning to understand the mechanism behind why some cancer cells die and why some proliferate when targeted by chemotherapy.

“Depending on the type of mutation in a patient, the cancer cells can avoid dying. These cells may go on to proliferate and actually promote the cancer.”

Pragathi’s research revealed that cancers avoid cell death via a range of cellular pathways. The exact pathway the cancer cell uses depends on the particular mutations and other factors present in the cell. Cells with certain cancer mutations, such as the common p53 mutation, are adept at avoiding their own death and go on to create further instability in the genome, making the cancer even more diverse and hard to eradicate. Pragathi’s research paints a picture of what must be present or absent in the cancer cell in order for a cell to avoid its own death via one pathway or another.

Cancer cell chromosomes in blue (telomeres, green; centromeres, pink)

“I feel like this will give a lot of scope for future study into what is happening when chemotherapy is effective and when it’s not. Building on previous knowledge with new techniques has allowed a new level of detail, so now hopefully other labs can better understand the relationship between cancer cells, chemotherapy and genetic mutations. This will be a big bridge to connect all the stories.’’

The research made extensive use of live cell imaging, adding chemotherapy drugs to cells in real time in the ATAC facility at Children’s Medical Research Institute. While this study was fundamental scientific research, Pragathi sees her work as assisting clinics on the path toward personalised medicine.

“By knowing the ways in which cancer cells avoid cell death, it will help us to identify cancer treatments in the future. Once we can identify the mutations involved in each cancer then we can tailor our treatment approach as specifically to the instance of cancer as possible.

“Ultimately this is a step towards more personalised medicine, but we have to do more fundamental scientific research in order to understand how cancer works.

This article originally appeared on the Children’s Medical Research Insitute website. Australian Cancer Research Foundation has given $12M worth of grants to CMRI, including our 2015 major grant.

Jocelyn and Ella team up to chop for cancer research

“My name is Jocelyn, I’m a full-time working Mum with a wonderful husband and 3 beautiful children. Ella is my eldest at 9, and she is the driving force behind the big chop. It’s been tough the last few months finally getting to the length we need to donate our hair.

Jocelyn and Ella show their hair growth to donate to cancer research
Jocelyn and Ella saw first hand the impact cancer has on Australians, and are taking action

Unfortunately, cancer has touched our lives too closely and too often. I lost my sister when she was only 38 and my father was diagnosed just after she was. My father in law has also fought cancer three times. Thankfully both my Dad and father in law are still with us, although my Dad will need another stem cell transplant, we are just not sure when.

It’s pretty confronting to watch loved ones suffer with this horrible disease. My sister tried to keep her hair as long as possible, but eventually, she had to shave it off. An authentic, high-quality wig made all the difference to her self-confidence at a time when her body was failing her.

For a while, my kids thought they would lose their hair if they had a sore throat because it seemed that everyone close to them lost their hair when they were sick. Although we could see the humour in the situation at the time, we knew it was a lot for our little people to experience and process.

I’ve donated my hair before, and it is good hair for wigs. Ella has been asking for a haircut for a while now and when I told her about donating it, she was excited to do it and is not afraid of cutting it really short.

I am certain every person I know has been touched by the devastating impact of cancer in some way. I know that we can make a difference if we all jump in and make it happen.

Ella and her grandfather

Ella is so proud to be contributing and she understands that doctors receive grants that help them research new treatments that could help keep loved ones around a lot longer. I researched ACRF when we were looking for a beneficiary for the money that was raised after my sister’s funeral. It was an easy choice as they have that goal in sight also.”

Support Ella and Jocelyn here

Inspired and ready to cut, colour or shave for cancer research? Find out how here.

Rare ovarian cancer confirmed as not seeded from elsewhere

An international study led by Peter Mac has revealed the origin of mucinous ovarian cancer (MOC) confirming, unlike other types of ovarian cancer, this rare cancer is not seeded from elsewhere in the body.

The research provides new insights that could lead to a tailored treatment for MOC, which accounts for around 3% of all ovarian cancers. Importantly, the study found MOC is a true gynaecological cancer and not a distant metastasis of a cancer that started elsewhere – like the pancreas, bowel or breast.

“Recently our understanding of ovarian cancer changed dramatically and we now recognise the ovaries can act like a sponge for roaming cancer cells,” says Dr Kylie Gorringe who is a Group Leader in the Cancer Genomics Program at Peter Mac and senior author on this study.

“Some cancers masquerade as ovarian cancers when in fact they originated in other organs, and by identifying where these cancers come from we’ve been able to improve treatments and prevention.

“We still have a way to go before we have addressed this question for all types of ovarian cancers, especially the rarest forms, but in the case of MOC we have now confirmed this is not a metastatic tumour but it develops at the ovary from an early stage.”

The genetic events observed in MOC were compared to other tumours from many different tissue types, and this ultimately showed MOC as a unique cancer of the ovary. Benign and borderline mucinous ovarian tumours were also sequenced, revealing these were genetically related to MOC in a way that indicates MOC could have evolved from these less aggressive tumours.

MOC affects less than 80 women each year in Australia, and over 500 samples of MOC and related tumours had to be sourced from around the globe to complete this research.

Results of the study – titled “The molecular origin and taxonomy of mucinous ovarian carcinoma” – were published online this week in the high impact journal Nature Communications.

The analysis – which involved an international collaboration and sequencing DNA from hundreds of genes up to the whole genome – also revealed new potential therapeutic targets that could support a tailored treatment for MOC.

“Building on our study findings, there is a strong case to involve women with MOC in clinical trials of drugs already in development and which target solid tumours with genetic similarities to MOC,” Dr Gorringe also says.

This includes drugs that target cancers with KRAS or TP53 mutations, and HER2 amplifications.

Around 1,500 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. The most common type – high-grade serous ovarian cancer – accounts for about 65% of cases. For decades, and without a tailored treatment, MOC has been treated the same way as high-grade serous ovarian cancer.

National collaborators include the WEHI in Melbourne, and international collaborators were based at institutes including the Mayo Clinic in the USA, University of British Columbia, and University of Montreal in Canada, the UK’s Centre for Ovarian Cancer Research at the University of Edinburgh.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Australian Cancer Research Foundation has provided Peter Mac with four grants for technology and equipment for cancer research, totalling $9M.

This article originally appeared on the Peter Mac website.

Numbers count in the genetics of moles and melanomas

University of Queensland scientists have identified a way to help dermatologists determine a patient’s risk of developing melanoma.

UQ Diamantina Institute researcher Associate Professor Rick Sturm said the team uncovered the specific gene variations affecting the number and types of moles on the body and their role in causing skin cancer. 

“The goal was to investigate the genetic underpinnings of different mole classes or ‘naevi types’ and understand how these affect melanoma risk,” Dr Sturm said.

“Based on our work, the number of moles in each category can give a more complete assessment of melanoma risk rather than just the number of moles alone.”

Three key mole classes, reticular, globular and non-specific were magnified under a dermoscope to assess their pattern and risk factors.

“We found people who had more non-specific mole patterns increased their melanoma risk by two per cent with every extra mole carried,” he said.

“As we age, we tend to increase the amount of non-specific moles on our body, and the risk of developing melanoma increases.”

Dr Sturm said globular and reticular mole patterns were also found to change over time.

“Globular patterns were shown to decrease as we get older, typically petering out after the age of 50 to 60,” he said.

“Reticular moles also decreased over time but were likely to head down a more dangerous path and develop into the non-specific pattern.”

A cohort of more than 1200 people, half melanoma patients, were recruited into the almost nine-year study. 

Their results were then overlayed with genetic testing, which found variations in four major genes.

“We found some major relationships between genes and the number of moles and patterns when looking at the DNA,” Dr Sturm said.

“Certain gene types influenced the number of different naevi types — for example, the IRF4 gene was found to strongly influence the number of globular naevi found on the body.”

The findings will help dermatologists to better understand mole patterns and provide more holistic care to patients who may be at risk of melanoma.

“For a long time, clinicians have been interested in how pigmented moles relate to melanoma and melanoma risk,” he said.

“With the availability of dermoscopes and imaging, these results provide a new layer of understanding to guide clinical practice.”

This article originally appeared on the University of Queensland website.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation has provided four grants to the University of Queensland’s Diamantina Insitute for research into Melanoma. This includes the 2018 Major Grant of $9.9M to establish the ACRF Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis.

Emma runs City2Surf to fund life-saving research

My name is Emma, I’m a mother of three and I’m from Burradoo, NSW. I work in the mental health field, as a social worker, and also at Western Sydney University, supporting students and staff mental health and wellbeing.

My family has been directly impacted by cancer in the last few years.

My beautiful sister Kate was diagnosed this year with Leukaemia (CML) and is now gratefully benefitting from wonderful cancer research that means she is on a drug trial, working towards recovery.

I love the direct impact cancer treatment research can have on a diagnosis. Without research and studies, there may be very different outcomes for my family.

Emma and her daughter Gabriella, who encouraged her to enter City2Surf

I didn’t think I would be running City2Surf this year – to be honest, I signed up two weeks before the race. I last ran this event when I was 15 years old, back in the mid-1980s! But with some convincing from my daughter, I decided I would attempt it this year.

With family fighting cancer you become more aware of how precious life is. Although I am a generally fit person, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it through the race – the last time I ran 14km was 35 years ago!

Race day came, and guess what – I actually surprised myself at how much fun it was, and how easy it was once the adrenalin got flowing!

I know cancer directly changes people’s lives so suddenly.

My life has been impacted significantly over the last few years. My lovely mum died of cancer just three years ago, and my sister Kate is now benefitting from a drug trial that is treating her leukaemia.

Running a fun run, on a sunny day in gorgeous Sydney seemed an easy but poignant choice to contribute some money and awareness to the cancer research cause.

Every little contribution will make a difference. If you can choose to donate and encourage friends to join in, why not? It feels worthwhile, and I really felt on the day I had a good reason to try my best when running. Especially as my lovely friends had donated to my Facebook page seeking sponsorship.

I was really excited and humbled as the two weeks progressed, to see how friends added quite generously to my cause. I am so grateful for this support.

I think contributing to research is such a useful way to make an impact for all cancers. I am so grateful that my family has access to the research outcomes such as being on treatment trials, effectively helping to fight cancer and heal from the disease.

Key to targeting the spread of pancreatic cancer

Targeting the tissue around pancreatic cancer cells may be the key to stopping their spread and improving chemotherapy outcomes.

An international team of researchers has revealed how aggressive pancreatic cancer cells change their environment to enable easy passage to other parts of the body (or metastasis) – the main cause of pancreatic cancer-related death.

The researchers discovered that some pancreatic tumours produce more of a molecule called ‘perlecan’ to remodel the environment around them, which helps cancer cells spread more easily to other parts of the body, and also protects them against chemotherapy. In a mouse model, the researchers showed that lowering the levels of perlecan revealed a reduction in the spread of pancreatic cancer and improved response to chemotherapy.

Led by Associate Professor Paul Timpson, Head of the Invasion and Metastasis Laboratory, and Dr Thomas Cox, Leader of the Matrix and Metastasis Group, at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the research may provide a promising new path to more effective treatment options for individuals with pancreatic and other cancers.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Pancreatic cancer is very aggressive, and by the time most cases are diagnosed, the tumour is often inoperable,” says Associate Professor Timpson. “What we’ve discovered in this study is a two-pronged approach for treating pancreatic cancer that we believe will improve the efficiency of chemotherapy and may help reduce tumour progression and spread.”

Pancreatic cancer remodels its environment

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of cancer, with a five-year survival of ~9% in Australia. In its early stages, pancreatic cancers often show no obvious signs or symptoms and by the time a cancer is diagnosed, it has often begun to spread outside the pancreas.


The Garvan-led team investigated why some pancreatic cancers spread, while others appear to stay in one place. In their study, the researchers took an unconventional path – they compared the tissue around tumour cells in both metastatic (spreading) and non-metastatic (non-spreading) pancreatic cancers. This tissue – known as the ‘matrix’ – acts like a glue that holds different cells in an organ or in a tumour together.

Using mouse models, the team extracted fibroblasts – cells that produce most of the matrix – from spreading and non-spreading pancreatic tumours. By mixing these different fibroblasts with cancer cells, the researchers found that remarkably, cancer cells from a non-spreading tumour began to spread when mixed with fibroblasts from a spreading tumour.

“Our results suggest that some pancreatic cancer cells can ‘educate’ the fibroblasts in and around the tumour. This lets the fibroblasts remodel the matrix and interact with other, less aggressive cancer cells in a way that supports the cancer cells’ ability to spread,” says first author Dr Claire Vennin.

“This means that in a growing tumour, even a small number of aggressive metastatic cells – a few bad apples – can help increase the spread of other, less aggressive cancer cells.”

A spotlight on the tumour matrix

To investigate how to stop pancreatic cancer cells from remodelling the matrix around them, the team took an even closer look at the fibroblasts.

Using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry techniques, the researchers discovered several molecules that the fibroblasts from metastatic tumours produced at significantly higher levels than the fibroblasts from non-metastatic tumours.

“What we discovered is a previously unknown set of matrix molecules that aggressive pancreatic cancer cells use to shape the tissue around them, in order to both protect them from chemotherapy and enable easier escape around the body,” explains Dr Cox.

Using gene-editing techniques, the researchers reduced the levels of one of the molecules called perlecan in mouse models of aggressive metastatic pancreatic cancer. Through advanced live imaging techniques, the researchers tracked individual cancer cells and revealed that lowering the levels of perlecan not only reduced the spread of cancer cells, but that tumours also responded better to chemotherapy.

An untapped resource

“We believe that there would be important benefit in targeting the fibroblasts of a tumour in combination with targeting the cancer cells themselves with chemotherapy,” says Dr Vennin. “If we can specifically target the aggressive fibroblasts in patients harbouring precise genetic changes, we can make them more susceptible to our currently approved treatments, which would significantly change how we treat this aggressive cancer.”

The researchers say that targeting perlecan, or other matrix molecules that help remodel the tissue of metastatic tumours, may be effective for not just pancreatic cancer, but also prostate and breast cancers.

“Most cancer therapies today aim to target cancer cells themselves. The environment of tumours is a potential untapped resource for cancer therapy and one which we intend to explore further,” says Associate Professor Timpson.

This article was originally published on the Garvan Institute of Medical Research website. Australian Cancer Research Foundation has given 6.1M in grants to Garvan Institute for cancer research.

Daily coffee doesn’t affect cancer risk

Drinking coffee does not change a person’s risk of being diagnosed with or dying from cancer, a new QIMR Berghofer study has found.

The research findings have been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Senior author and head of QIMR Berghofer’s Statistical Genetics Group, Associate Professor Stuart MacGregor, said the large Mendelian randomization study looked at data from more than 300,000 people and showed drinking coffee every day neither reduced nor increased a person’s risk of developing any cancer.

“We know that coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, and there continue to be mixed messages about the role it plays in disease,” Associate Professor MacGregor said.

“We also know that a preference for coffee is heritable.

“Our two-pronged research looked at whether cancer rates differed among people with different levels of self-reported coffee consumption, and whether the same trend was seen when we replaced self-reported consumption with genetic predisposition towards coffee consumption.

“We found there was no real relationship between how many cups of coffee a person had a day and if they developed any particular cancers.

“The study also ruled out a link between coffee intake and dying from the disease.”

Coffee contains a complex mixture of bioactive ingredients, including substances such as caffeine and kahweol, which have been shown to display anti-tumour effects in animal studies.

Its potential anti-cancer effect on humans has not been established however, with studies to date producing conflicting findings for overall cancer risk and for individual cancers such as breast and prostate cancers.

The QIMR Berghofer study used cancer data drawn from the UK Biobank cohort for more than 46,000 people who had been diagnosed with most invasive cancer types, including about 7,000 people who died from the disease.

The genetic and preference information from the people with cancer was compared to data from more than 270,000 others who had never been diagnosed with cancer.

QIMR Berghofer lead researcher, Jue-Sheng Ong, said the study also looked at some common individual cancers such as breast, ovarian, lung and prostate cancers and found drinking coffee did not increase or decrease their incidence.

“There was some inconclusive evidence about colorectal cancer, where those who reported drinking a lot of coffee had a slightly lower risk of developing cancer, but conversely examination of data from those people with a higher genetic predisposition to drink more coffee seemed to indicate a greater risk of developing the disease,” Mr Ong said.

“The disparity in those findings would suggest more research is needed to clarify if there is any relationship between colorectal cancer and coffee.”

Associate Professor MacGregor said the study had implications for public health messaging around the world.

“The health benefits of coffee have been argued for a long time, but this research shows simply changing your coffee consumption isn’t an effective way of protecting yourself from cancer,” he said.

“The health benefits of coffee have been argued for a long time, but this research shows simply changing your coffee consumption isn’t an effective way of protecting yourself from cancer,” he said.

This article originally appeared here. ACRF has given $8.4M in grants to QIMR Berghofer for cancer research technology since 2002.

A genomic barcode tracker for immune cells

A new research method to pinpoint the immune cells that recognise cancer could significantly change how we treat the disease.

(L-R) Dr Katherine Jackson, Shaun Carswell, Ghamdan Al Eryani, Dr Mandeep Singh

Researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have developed a new method to spot rare immune cells that are reactive against cancer cells, from within a patient’s own immune system.

The patented ‘RAGE-seq’ method enables scientists to track how immune cells evolve inside tumour tissue for the first time, revealing unprecedented insight into how to better arm the immune system to target cancer. The technique can be likened to a barcode tracker, able to scan detailed information from thousands of immune cells at a time.

“This method gives us the most detailed view yet of how immune cells behave in the human body,” says Professor Chris Goodnow, Executive Director of the Garvan Institute and co-senior author of the published work. “Immune cells play a critical role in the development of disease. This method shows significant potential to help us personalise cancer treatments to the individual.”

Development of the method, by Dr Mandeep Singh (Immunogenomics Laboratory) and Ghamdan Al-Eryani (Tumour Progression Laboratory) at Garvan, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Rare immune cells that ‘see’ cancer

Our immune system helps protect us against foreign pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses. But it often responds poorly to cancers, which arise from the body’s own cells – usually too few immune cells ‘recognise’ them to mount an effective immune response.

Immune cells come in many different forms – they mix-and-match different types of ‘receptors’ on their cell surface, which monitor the cell’s environment. When an immune cell’s receptors recognise a potential hazard, the cell replicates to make more copies of itself, able to target the threat more effectively.

“The immune cells that recognise cancer cells are often rare,” says Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick, who heads the Tumour Progression Laboratory at Garvan. “We have to sort through thousands of cells to find these replicating cells that may make up only a small fraction of all the immune cells present in a tumour.”

Building a cellular barcode tracker

Previous methods have made it possible to read the long stretches of genetic output (the RNA) that encodes an immune cell’s receptor, from single cells. But they have not had the capacity to sort through the thousands of cells present in a tumour, at a single time.


The study authors developed a new method by harmonising four different genomic technologies (Oxford Nanopore Technologies, 10X Genomics, Illumina and CaptureSeq).

They first developed a way to enrich the RNA from single cells, targeting the RNAs encoding the immune cell receptors. They then developed a computational tool to accurately read full-length sequences of the immune cell receptors.

The resulting Repertoire and Gene Expression by Sequencing, or ‘RAGE-seq’, method works much like a barcode tracker. By ‘scanning’ the relevant immune cell receptors in many thousands of cells at once it can provide an accurate snapshot of how the immune cells in a tissue sample are related, and which cells may be effective at mounting a response against cancer.

“This high-throughput strategy is really opening the door to a much more detailed understanding of the cellular dynamics of the immune response,” says Dr Martin Smith, Leader of the Genomic Technologies Group at Garvan’s Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics.

In a proof-of-principle study, the researchers used the method to sample 7,138 cells from the tumour and associated lymph node of a breast cancer patient. The team pinpointed a number of related cells that were present in both tissues, and which revealed specific genetic signatures of the immune response within the patient’s tumour.

A new look at disease

The researchers say the ability to find and barcode these rare cells of the immune system has the power to guide treatment strategies based on the individual.

Immunotherapy is an emerging form of cancer therapy designed to activate the immune system to better target cancer, but not all patients respond well and current methods used to assess a patient’s response give a poor snapshot of the behaviour of their immune cells.

Professor Goodnow says there is significant interest from pharmaceutical companies to better understand the immune system’s response to cancer, at a resolution now available through the RAGE-seq method. “We hope RAGE-seq will be implemented in clinical trials, providing crucial information that will help potential cancer therapeutics get to the right patients more quickly.”

The team is now applying the technique to samples from melanoma patients, to understand why half of patients receiving immunotherapy have a poor response. The researchers believe the method could also be applied to provide a better understanding of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

This article originally appeared on the Garvan Institute of Medical Research website.

Marlo Shaves for Cancer Research

My name is Marlo and I am 12 years old and I live near Coffs Harbour. I love the environment and live on an acreage with my family and our chickens, rabbits, a dog and our bees. I’m in year 7 and my favourite subject is Human Society and it’s Environment. I play the violin and I am in two ensembles.

Although I was too young to know what was happening at the time, my grandma has had breast cancer twice, and a very close family friend has also had breast cancer. All I remember from this was my mum being very worried. Cancer affects so many people, and there are so many different types with many having limited treatment options. The idea of a headshave had been mentioned at school, and I thought ‘why not! It’s just hair, and it will grow back’.

For anyone who is considering doing a headshave, I would say ‘DO IT!’. It feels really good to know that you are helping other people. I was really lucky because my family and friends were very generous and supportive, lots of my mum and dads friends who I have never met donated money, and lots of my teachers and other people who live in our small town. Overall I am really glad I did it and if I ever grow my hair I will do it again.

Inspired and ready to do something bold for cancer research? Find out more about hosting a head shave for ACRF here.  

More genetic evidence of what puts people at risk of breast and other cancers

A new international study has discovered that 94 genetic variants, about which little has been known until now, increase a person’s risk of developing breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

The study, led by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, also found that hundreds of other genetic variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes did not cause cancer.

The variants had already been discovered, but it wasn’t previously known whether they increased a person’s risk of cancer or had no effect.

The research, arising from the ENIGMA international consortium, adds to the wealth of genetic knowledge that can help identify those at risk and help doctors and genetic counsellors decide on the best management for people who carry variants in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 cancer genes.

The study involved more than 200 scientists and doctors from 114 institutions around the world, and has been published in the journal Human Mutation.

More than 20,000 variants have previously been identified in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 cancer genes which, when altered, might or might not affect a person’s chances of developing breast, ovarian and some other cancers.

However, the significance of thousands of those variants is still unknown, which is problematic for management of families carrying those variants.

The study collated research and clinical data from around the world for a large number of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic variants of unknown clinical significance.

Senior Author and head of QIMR Berghofer’s Molecular Cancer Epidemiology Group, Associate Professor Amanda Spurdle, said it was the single largest study of its type to date.

“We were able to weed out 447 variants as harmless, while showing 94 variants did increase a person’s risk of developing breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancers”, Associate Professor Spurdle said.

“It’s like separating the wheat from the chaff.

“These findings will help doctors give advice on the frequency of early screening such as breast scans; preventative measures such as risk-reducing surgery or medication; and even personalised treatment with specific drugs (PARP-inhibitors) for people with those cancers.

“The genetic information is also used to decide whether to test close relatives, in a bid to prevent or catch disease early.

“If we can narrow down which variants pose a danger, we can reduce concern for clinicians and patients, and avoid unnecessary testing that unfortunately sometimes occurs for individuals with a variant of uncertain significance.”

Associate Professor Spurdle said clarifying the role of so many variants was only possible because of the international collaboration.

“We pooled clinical and research expertise from around the world and applied statistical methods to tackle this problem, using information from patients and their families spread across 15 countries.

“Importantly, it has also provided a basis for us to further develop our methods for classifying genetic variants in future.”

ACRF has provided QIMR Berghofer with three grants, totaling $7.05M, for research into all types of cancer since 2007. This article originally appeared on their website.

Gwennyth Bravely Shaves for ACRF

“My name is Gwennyth, I’m 9 years old and I am in grade four. I have one brother who is 11 years old. I also have a dog called Brownie who is very naughty and chews apart everything. I love to dance and sing.

Cancer research is really important, and I want to do what I can to help. I decided to shave my hair and raise money for Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

My Nonna had breast cancer and she lost her hair and sadly died. Both my great grandmothers also died from cancer. Luckily my Gran is a cancer survivor, but she had to fight hard to beat it. I got inspired by all of them and others who have had to battle cancer and lost the fight.

I felt very nervous and scared but I went through with it because I was so determined to help other people. I kept telling my mum, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s just hair and it will grow back – other kids need my hair more than I do!’. After I shaved my head I felt really happy because I knew what I did was able to help so many people.

On the day of the shave, I held a fun morning tea and had all my friends over. My mum’s hairdresser came over, made 33 ponytails, and everyone had a go chopping one of them off (including me!) and then the hairdresser shaved the rest off using a number 1 and 2 blade. I have a very short hairdo now – just like Sinead O’Connor!

Shaving your head is a big responsibility and quite nerve-racking, but when you do it you just feel so much happier that you know you are helping people.”

Inspired and ready to do something bold for cancer research? Find out more about hosting a head shave for ACRF here.

Two new potential cancer therapies identified

An Australian study undertaken by St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) in Melbourne and Children’s Medical Research Institute in Sydney, has uncovered a mechanism of cancer survival and identified not one, but two, potential treatment options that could help kill aggressive cells that lead to both rare children’s’ cancers and common cancers.

“Cells divide throughout our lives to ensure our bodies can keep on functioning; but as they divide, the structures found at the ends of chromosomes called telomeres, get shorter and shorter, until the cell eventually dies,” said senior author, Associate Professor Hilda Pickett from CMRI in Sydney.

Cancer cells find a way around this limitation using one of two approaches to repair the chromosome: 1) the enzyme telomerase is activated to add new telomeres to the DNA ends or 2) through a process called “alternative lengthening of telomeres”, or ALT, which copy/pastes telomere DNA from chromosomes with long telomeres onto those with short telomeres.

“About 40% of soft-tissue cancers including osteosarcoma (bone cancer), liposarcoma (a cancer originating in fat cells), and angiosarcoma (blood vessel cancer), as well as 10% of other carcincoma cancer types, such as breast, ovarian and prostate, occur when the ALT process is activated and the cells become ‘immortal’ and cancerous”, said co-first author Dr Julienne O’Rourke from SVI in Melbourne. “There are currently no specific therapies for ALT-positive sarcomas. People with this type of cancer have a 50% higher rate of death, as these cancers are more resistant to current treatments.”

Associate Professor Pickett said they’d been studying the mechanics of ALT cancers for many years when they identified a protein that is essential for ALT cell viability. The research involved collaboration with Associate Professor Andrew Deans at St Vincent’s Institute in Melbourne to demonstrate that depletion of FANCM was specifically toxic to ALT cancer cells. Together they discovered that by disrupting the function of FANCM, they could put the cancer under so much stress that it stopped proliferating.

Another study by SVI undertaken with international collaborators in Portugal and Switzerland2, also revealed that ALT-positive cancer cells die when FANCM is deleted.

“Both studies, published today in Nature Communications, found that absence of the FANCM enzyme “hijacks” the ALT process and causes very specific cancer cell killing. The FANCM enzyme is not essential in normal (non-cancerous) cells,” said co-senior author Associate Professor Andrew Deans from SVI. “This suggests it could be a good target for new drugs that could eliminate cancer cells, without eliminating other healthy cells.”

“Further, we found that FANCM could be inhibited with specific peptides, or an experimental drug called PIP-199.  The next step is to do new studies with these peptides and PIP-199 to get to the stage where we can begin clinical trials,” said Associate Professor Hilda Pickett.

“We’re all excited by the life-changing and life-saving potential for children and other people with these cancers; it’s not every day you make discoveries that could lead to treatments that could save not a few, but many, precious lives.”

The original article, featured on the St Vincent’s Medical Research website, can be found here.

Researchers reveal key to targeting dormant cancer cells

Researchers from Garvan Institute of Medical Research have identified what keeps some cancer cells dormant – a finding which could uncover new approaches to preventing the spread of cancer.

Dr Weng Hua Khoo, Associate Professor Tri Phan and Professor Peter Croucher

An international team of scientists has uncovered the unique set of genes that keeps some cancer cells dormant. Led by Associate Professor Tri Phan and Professor Peter Croucher at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, in collaboration with Professor Ido Amit at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the research may reveal new therapeutic targets for multiple myeloma (a blood cancer that arises in bone) and other cancers which spread, or metastasise, to bone such as breast and prostate cancer.

The researchers publish their findings in the journal Blood on 25 April 2019 (EDT).

Most will associate cancer with its fast growing cells that spread uncontrollably – but in fact, it’s often the cancer cells that are dormant and inactive that pose the greatest threat. Dormant cancer cells, when ‘woken up’, are a major cause of cancers coming back, or relapsing, after treatment – often as metastases, which are estimated to cause 90 per cent of all cancer deaths.

A ticking time bomb

image for weng hua paper MM_web.jpg
Credit: Dr Michelle McDonald

When cancer metastasises, it spreads to different organs in the human body. Some cancer cells can stop dividing and hide in a ‘dormant’ state, tucked-away in niches such as the inner lining of bones. Once dormant, the immune system, our natural protector, cannot find them to target them and conventional chemotherapy is ineffective. There is also no way of knowing how long the cells will remain dormant.

To help prevent dormant cancer cells from being reactivated, Garvan researchers are investigating what makes cancer cells dormant. But isolating the cells to study them has been a challenge – they are rare, often less than one in hundreds of thousands of cells in the bone, and scientists have not known how to identify them.

“What makes our approach different is that we’re looking at the cancer ecosystem as a whole,” says Associate Professor Phan, Head of the Intravital Microscopy laboratory at Garvan and co-senior author of the study. “It’s not just the cancer cell but the other cells in their microenvironment which determine their fate. We are trying to find what genes get switched on by the microenvironment and how those genes make the cancer cell dormant.”

Uncovering cancer’s hiding place

The Garvan researchers first developed a way to track dormant multiple myeloma cells inside the bones of living mice four years ago using a new technique called intravital two-photon microscopy. They have now isolated these rare cells to analyse the dormant cells’ transcriptome – a snapshot of all the genes that are switched on in the cell and control dormancy.

“Having been able to identify the rare dormant cells, we were able to isolate them and work out all the genes which were active. What is exciting is that we discovered many of these genes in dormant cells are not normally switched on in these cancer cells. Now that we know the identity of these genes, we can use that information to target them,” says Dr Weng Hua Khoo, first author of the study.

The team analysed the single cell transcriptomes at the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics and confirmed their findings independently with their collaborators at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Unexpectedly, the dormant myeloma cells had a similar transcriptome signature to immune cells, but which was only ‘switched on’ when the cells were located next to osteoblasts, specialised cells found in bone. “This showed us just how crucial the crosstalk between the tumour cells and the tumour microenvironment is for cancer dormancy,” says Professor Ido Amit, Principal Investigator at the Weizmann Institute.

A new way to target cancer

The researchers are now using their method to collect data on dormant cancer cells from other cancer types, with the hope of finding a common signature that would allow them to target all dormant cancer cells. “The aim now is to bring data from many cancer types together to find a unifying approach to understanding how dormant cells control cancer relapse and metastasis,” says co-senior author Professor Croucher, Research Director at Garvan.

The team is also working to develop potential therapies that target the unique features of dormant cells, now uncovered by this research.

Professor Croucher says, “There are different approaches to targeting dormant cells. One is to keep them dormant indefinitely by creating an environment that stops them from waking up. A second approach is to deliberately wake them up, which can then make them susceptible to being targeted with conventional chemotherapy. But the best approach would be to use this knowledge of what the genes are that keep cells in the dormant state to eradicate them while they’re dormant. This would stop the disease coming back or relapsing – this would be the Holy Grail.”

The original article can be found on the Garvan website.

Kate and Jordan Tie the Knot and Support Cancer Research

Our names are Kate and Jordan and this year marks our fourteenth year together, and our first as a married couple. We live with our dog Oscar in Sydney’s Inner West. We are absolute best friends- even after fourteen years together, we still want to spend as much time as possible together and our favourite thing to do in the whole world is to sit in our garden and have a glass of wine together.

Kate and Jordan on their wedding day

We met in our late teens, in our last year of high school. We were introduced by friends, who were dating at the time, and so began a very slow courtship process. At 19 years old, we dated for a year and then split up for a year. The timing just wasn’t right. We were both young and still finding out who we were. At 21 years old, our paths crossed again and it felt as though it was meant to be. We spent our twenties travelling, living in share houses with friends and partying together, before settling down in our early thirties, buying a house and making it our own.

We are not a traditional couple, and having been together so long, neither of us wanted a traditional wedding. Neither of us wore traditional wedding outfits, we didn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen, no first dance or wedding cake. This was a wedding PARTY.

As foodies, we sourced the very best food and excellent wines and we had the privilege of having a live singer, Andrew Loadsman (who you may remember from The Voice TV show) and the best celebrant, Todd Mayhew, who kept the vibe fun in his pale blue safari suit. We were married in Jervis Bay amongst coral peonies, smokebush, jewel-toned hydrangeas, and sorbet coloured sweetpeas and delphinium.

It is hard to find someone these days who has had no experience of cancer. It is an unflinching, uncaring, indiscriminate disease and it takes so many great people far too soon. But just as we have had experiences with loss associated with cancer, likewise we are so blessed to say that, thanks to the wonders of modern cancer research and medicine, we still have so many of our dear family members and friends still with us. Kate’s godmother is a survivor, as are many family friends, and Jordan’s dad, who beat Prostate cancer.

The wedding ceremony in Jervis Bay

And beyond this, many more people that were at our wedding thanks to the wonder of modern cancer treatment and we are so grateful for that. So grateful in fact, that we chose not to ask for money for ourselves, but rather to donate that money toward cancer research. If our wedding money can go toward saving just one person in the future it will be worth it.

Cancer research is one of the most important facets of modern medical science and technology, and it is absolutely integral in keeping people alive. We all need to work together to solve cancer. It takes all of us, and even small donations help.

These days we are all blessed with so much. Many of us are already living together before we get married and have no need for the toasters and blenders and crystal glasses that have traditionally been wedding gifts. Honeymoon funds or wishing wells are a popular trend at weddings these days but as you continue through life, you won’t miss that money you got for your wedding – but you will miss the people that shared that day with you. What is more important than anything, if you can afford it, is to give that money where it can genuinely make a difference.

Learn more about Donating in Lieu of Gifts

Kathryn’s Bucket-List Fundraiser

My name is Kathryn. I am turning 60 this year and have been happily married for 38 years. I have three beautiful children and five healthy grandchildren. Throughout my life, I have lost too many family and friends to cancer. I don’t like to see anyone suffer. I know every bit of support helps to remedy this.

Hosting a fundraiser for a worthy cause has been on my bucket list. I am pleased to say that I have now achieved this by raising more funds than expected for Australian Cancer Research Foundation. I held a successful fundraiser event with over 150 people attending and we raised over $14,000 that went directly to the cause.

I am surrounded by close family and friends who have suffered or are living with cancer. I, unfortunately, lost my father in law to cancer, my maternal Aunties and mother have suffered from breast cancer, and I have two close family members living with cancer; one has Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the other has multiple myeloma. There are many more that I know of that have battled this dreaded disease.

I believe in supporting the research as it saves lives and hopefully one day we may find a cure.

I chose ACRF as they cover a wide range of cancers. I know of too many family and friends that have suffered or who are currently suffering with cancer. Years ago, it was a death sentence but as a result of research, often it can be beaten, and if not, it can be lived with.

This has been my first major fundraiser. It has taken me well out of my comfort zone.

I don’t normally feel comfortable asking for help. I pushed myself to ask for donations of prizes for silent auctions and balloon prizes. I had quite a few rejects, but I did manage to get corporations, small businesses and individuals willing to support the evening. The outcome was far more than what I was aiming for.

If I can manage to organise a successful fundraiser, I’m sure anyone putting their mind to it can also do the same. It has been a very rewarding experience.

I have been very humbled by the support shown from family, friends and the wider community.  The total raised far exceeded any of my expectations. I am proud knowing that the amount raised will contribute to help save the lives of many.

Want to get involved and support ACRF in our mission to outsmart cancer?

There are many ways you can get involved to raise money if you feel passionate about the advancements in cancer research we are helping fund.

You can host your own fundraiser like Kathryn did. Some ideas for your event include holding a morning tea, a BBQ or a DIY fundraiser.

Another way you can fundraise and help us outsmart cancer is by shaving or colouring your hair and getting family or friends to donate to your cause.

If you are part of a business, we have a business and corporate partnerships program so you can partner with us to raise money as well as creating a partnership that will be a rewarding benefit for your company and staff.

Bacterial toxin research could improve pesticides and help treat cancer

Research into an intricate toxin delivery system found in bacteria could overcome the problem of pesticide resistance in insects, and might even lead to new cancer treatments.

An international team led by Dr Michael Landsberg at The University of Queensland has revealed the detailed inner workings of the newest member of a family of naturally occurring insecticidal toxins.

“This toxin, known as YenTc, is a highly effective toxin-delivering nanomachine,” Dr Landsberg said.

Structure of the YenTcA toxin complex looking down through the central channel.

“We used a high resolution microscopic imaging method known as electron cryo-microscopy to reveal the complex molecular structure that injects highly toxic molecules into targeted cells, triggering cell death.”

The toxin was isolated from a naturally occurring bacterium that targets many commercially significant insect pest species, including the diamondback moth, and has been earmarked as a new biopesticide.

“We found that YenTc contains unique features which decorate its structure, much like baubles that distinguish the appearance of Christmas trees,” Dr Landsberg said.

“We believe these decorations determine which hosts are susceptible to toxins.

“This selection mechanism will ultimately be crucial to the safety of any future biopesticide technology.

“But understanding it might also allow us to engineer bio-inspired toxins that could be used for therapeutic purposes.”

UQ’s Dr Sarah Piper, said the findings had helped researchers understand why YenTc specifically targeted insects.

“This is an important step, which may eventually allow for YenTc or related toxins to be engineered to target different insect species, or perhaps even selectively target and kill unhealthy cells in animals or people, such as cancer cells, without harming healthy cells,” she said.

“So what began with the goal of trying to prevent insects from destroying vegetable crops might one day lead to us having the capability to design and test new therapeutic approaches for treating cancer.”

The work involved researchers at UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and the UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience, Griffith University, AgResearch New Zealand, the University of Auckland, the University of Basel and the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research.

Original article can be found on the University of Queensland website.

200ks in 5 Days | Chelsea’s Story


A form of cancer that I know a lot of people have never heard of.  

I was one of those people, before this horrible illness took someone I loved so much away from me.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that comes from exposure to Asbestos; most of the time lying dormant in your body for years. One that burdens its patients or victims, as quickly as it takes them away too.

My name is Chelsea Phillips, I am 25 years old and a passionate, emotional and determined person. In August this year, I’m getting married to my best friend, Ben. I’m extremely family orientated and love my friends.

My Opa (grandfather), to us, seemed like a healthy older gentleman, someone who appreciated everything life had to offer; his beautiful wife, 5 amazing kids, 11 grandkids and so on.

He had always had a shadow on his lungs, something that his doctor was never too worried about. But in the months leading up to his first admission into hospital, he was experiencing severe pain and discomfort around his shoulder and chest. It was mistaken for muscle and joint pain a number of times.

Chelsea’s grandfather and grandmother

The immediate concern came when he saw a different doctor, who sent him straight to emergency at Sutherland hospital on the 12th December, 2016. He spent one and half weeks and his last Christmas lying in a hospital bed, with no answers. We celebrated my Oma’s birthday in January, with Opa at home.

A few months later after visiting a new specialist, my Opa was again admitted into Emergency, where he spent the next few weeks. More and more tests and finally on the eve of Valentines Day 2017, we got the answer that none of us wanted to hear. That shadow on his lungs was Mesothelioma and ‘months’ was the diagnosis.

Within 2 weeks of Opa’s diagnosis, he was transported to a different hospital, where he would spend, what we thought would be his last weeks. But on the morning of the 6th March 2017, just 3 days after he was transferred, we got a call to come and spend the last precious hours with our beautiful Opa. He held out a tough fight for most of the day.

The brutal cancer took him within weeks of his diagnosis. It’s something I would not want anyone else to endure, especially if something can be done about it before it’s too late.

I could have had him around for a century longer and I struggle with the sudden loss of my grandfather every day. I hope that in raising awareness of this sinister cancer, that people will take extra precaution and care, whether they have already been exposed to or are still exposing themselves to asbestos today. They need to get themselves checked and use all the appropriate protective gear.

I asked my beautiful friend and fellow fundraiser, Rachel, if she would be interested in raising money for cancer research and she let me know about the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. It seemed like a perfect fit for us and we have been planning to do it ever since.

The reason we are taking part in this walk, is to raise awareness of the awful, incurable cancers that have affected both Rach and my families, along with all other forms of cancers. Cancers, that should be much more widely known about and with the help of raising awareness and funds, hopefully avoided and with the help of research, cured.

All funds that are raised from this walk will go straight towards overall cancer research, because although there may not be a cure for this form of cancer yet, this will get us one step closer to curing other types of cancer that are still taking too many lives.

There are too many people in my life alone, that have been affected in some way by cancer, we can all stand up to this horrific killing disease and make a change.

When someone you love is so sick and you hear about so many other people affected by this disease, there is not much that you can actually do and you feel helpless. I have been wanting to do something for two years and I am so lucky I have someone like Rach to go on this journey with.

Support Rachel and Chelsea here

The Fundraising duo! Rachel and Chelsea

200ks in 5 days | Rachel’s Story

My name is Rachel, I’m one half of a studio for architecture and interior design.  I live in NSW with my partner, Micky and our greyhound, Bill. I am 30 years old, with some grey hairs. I’m the first generation Australian in our family, my mother was born in France, and my father in Italy.

In October 2017, my dad, who was then 59, was admitted to Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick for surgery to remove a cancerous growth on his tongue.  Dad made out like it was no big deal, they were just cutting a small growth off the side of his tongue. But when I went to visit him after the surgery, I could see immediately that it was, in fact, a very big deal.

Dad’s face was a swollen mess, with tubes coming out of various places draining fluid.

The surgery had involved pulling Dad’s tongue through an incision in his upper neck, removing approximately one third of his tongue, and then grafting some tissue from the inside of his wrist to the wound.  The swelling was so bad he couldn’t breathe through his nose or mouth; he had a tracheostomy for nearly 4 weeks.  He had a feeding tube up his nose and had to communicate by writing on a piece of paper. 

Rachel and her father

I nearly fainted that first day I walked into the hospital room; there was my Dad, who wasn’t a smoker, didn’t drink, going through hell.

The positive from this is that the surgeons removed a clear margin, and there was no cancer in the lymph nodes they removed from his neck as a precaution.

Dad then began the long road of recovery from the surgery; his speech was affected, and he had a lot of trouble swallowing. He had regular check-ups, but we were all hopeful that eventually, everything would go back to normal.

Then, in April 2018, we received the news that the cancer had returned, this time in the base of Dad’s mouth and in both sides of his neck. It was very aggressive, and the next course of action was radiation therapy, and chemotherapy; with the likelihood of an ‘all clear’ being given was 5-10%.  Despite those odds, Dads decided to fight the cancer. 

The radiation therapy came with its own set of side effects: nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and pain.  But Dad never complained.  After 8 weeks of treatment at Liverpool Hospital, Dad was feeling better; the swelling in his face had gone down, and we were all hopeful that the combination of radiation and chemo had done the trick. 

The treatment did reduce the size of Dad’s cancer, but didn’t eliminate it.  We were also told that the cancer had also appeared in Dad’s lung.  But he kept fighting.

We were fortunate that around this time (about September 2018), the government subsidised immunotherapy for Dad’s type of cancer – so he gave that a go too.  The side effects from this were bad – intense nausea and vomiting, and extreme fatigue. Dad was hospitalised a few times for 3-5 days each time during September/October, as he could not keep any fluids or food down (all of which went through his PEG – a feeding tube to the stomach). 

Then, in November, Dad was hospitalised again.  The immunotherapy was not working against Dad’s cancer, and we decided that it would best to stop the treatment.  Dad remained in hospital while the doctors tried to manage the side effects of the immunotherapy; and eventually they were able to stop most of the nausea and vomiting.  In December, Dad was moved to palliative care.

Throughout December, I watched as my Dad deteriorated; I witnessed him transform from a person who I loved, into a husk of a man.

On the 19th of December the decision was made to turn off the PEG feeding tube – from then on, Dad would only receive 120mL of water, 4 times per day. He wore a nappy and urinated into a tube. My Dad was skeletal and unrecognisable – he was so thin that his earlobes disappeared, I could see every single one of his ribs, the start and end of his femur; his teeth looked too large for his head. 

I was there when he died on the 2nd January 2019.  I sat by his bed as he breathed his last breath.

What my father went through was horrific, and throughout it we were all helpless, at the mercy of the limits of science.  What I learned while Dad was sick is just how little we know about cancer and how to treat it.  It felt like every time I asked a question, the answer was ‘we don’t know’. I felt powerless. I struggled with being unable to do anything to help; I wanted to magic the cancer away

Rachel, her father and brother hiking

Now, three months on, I have the opportunity to take back some control, and do something to raise money and contribute to research that will hopefully, one day, mean that no one need go through what my Dad went through, what we went through as a family.

I read about a trail in QLD that was 161km long, and bookmarked it, as we were due for a family hike.  In 2016, Dad my brother and I hiked Hinchinbrooke Island over 5 days, and it was one of the best things we did together – Dad really loved it.

So when my wonderful friend Chelsea suggested we do a fundraiser for cancer, I knew exactly which walk we should do.  The extra 39km from Ipswich to Brisbane just made the walk a nice round 200km.  We aim to complete the trek over 5 days, raising money for as they fund research into all types of cancer. ”

Support Rachel and Chelsea here

The Fundraising duo! Rachel and Chelsea

Scientists find link between age and different subtypes of bowel cancer

A study by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute has for the first time identified that bowel cancer has five distinct subtypes that are closely related to a patient’s age.

Senior author from QIMR Berghofer’s Conjoint Gastroenterology Laboratory, Associate Professor Vicki Whitehall, said the new way of classifying bowel cancers may have implications for the kinds of treatments patients are offered.

About 17,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer annually in Australia and more than 4,000 die from the disease each year, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Associate Professor Whitehall said the study found bowel cancer could be classified according to methylation of the genes – or simply put, how the genes turned on or off.

“Our study found those changes in methylation of bowel cancers closely track with a patient’s age. This may indicate that bowel cancers occurring in younger and older patients may have different underlying causes,” Associate Professor Whitehall said.

“DNA methylation is a way a cell can turn its own genes on or off, but in cancer this process gets hijacked and it turns on genes that favour growth and turns off genes that are meant to suppress it.

“This study suggests we should now focus on how methylation – the switching on or off of genes – causes these five different subtypes of bowel cancer and look for treatments that reduce DNA methylation to reduce the cancer risk.”

Lead researcher Lochlan Fennell said bowel cancer was generally a disease that struck later in life.

“Previous studies have linked DNA methylation to ageing and bowel cancer but ours is the first study to identify five different subtypes of bowel cancer based on this process,” Mr Fennell said.

“We were interested in finding out which genes were being switched on and off in tumours and that’s how we found the different subgroups.

“Our study indicates that the different genetic changes that cause cancer happen at different ages and that might have implications for different treatments, because we know some types respond better to immunotherapy and other targeted therapies while other types are resistant to these therapies.”

The three-year study involved samples from 216 patients at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

The findings have been published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The original article can be found on the QIMR Berghofer’s website.

A marathon for Mum

“My name is Glen, I am an average middle-aged guy. I’ve lived in Canberra most of my life, with my wife, Kristy, and children Haydn and Caitln.

Whilst there are many organisations doing great work to support and research different types of cancers and treatments, few are as ambitious or as bold as ACRF, which is why I have put my support toward an organisation with ACRF’s mission of outsmarting cancer.

Around 2010 my wife Kirsty asked me to participate in a fitness fundraising event. So, to prepare I needed to get fit. I started running during my lunch breaks. The first run I could barely run 1K. But I was determined. I ran as far as I could, about 1K. I took note of the post I just passed, then turned around and walked back. Next run, ok to the post and then a couple of 100m more to the gate. I repeated this over several weeks finding a new point each time. Before I knew it I was doing a 7K loop up and over Mount Ainslie multiple times a week.

So what next? Maybe a marathon? Back to training. More running. 42K, Maybe? There is a longer option, if you are up to it, you can pre-register for the ultra 50K. I’m in. But I didn’t tell anyone as I didn’t know if I could do the 42 let alone 50. So, there we are, friends and family cheering me into each he 42 finishing line, I veer to the ultra lane. I could see them saying, ‘Hey where’s Glen going?! He hasn’t stopped!’ And off I go to complete the ultra.

Glen and his Mother, Jan

After Mum was diagnosed she came to watch me run my next marathon, it was an extremely difficult one for me this time around as I was filled with emotions. On completion, Mum told me how proud she was of me. I whispered back to her, “If you keep coming back to watch me, I’ll keep coming back to run the marathon.”

Mum is still here, I am still running. Mum is a real battler and is the bravest person I know. Running and training is hard, but those with cancer and other illnesses are the real heroes. They don’t get the rest after finishing a run or get to stop after crossing the finish line. It’s like Mum is running her own marathon every hour and day. Keep going Mum until you are ready to cross your finish line.

It is hard to understand the impact cancer has on you until it affects someone close to you. Whilst I am saddened and still a little angry that Mesothelioma will take my Mum well before her time, I am hopeful that one day we will find a cure. If we all do a bit to raise awareness and provide support to cancer research, future generations will be able to live without the fear and sadness that cancer brings.

Since there is no one type of cancer, they fund research into them all. I was pleasantly surprised when ACRF contacted me directly to thank me for my efforts and wanted to know more about my story, they sent me a pack of goodies from sponsoring brands and contacted me to personally thank me. It really made me gratified that I chose ACRF when they showed how appreciative they were of my efforts.”

The Epic Ride to Outsmart Cancer: Postie Trek 2019

4,000km, Postie Bikes and 15 riders on a mission to outsmart cancer and pay tribute to loved ones lost and diagnosed with the disease.

Postie Trek is a biennial event started by Daniel Kranz – a father of two from Firefly NSW, to raise much-needed funds for Australian Cancer Research Foundation. The incredible journey across parts of Australia provides an opportunity for Daniel and the other riders to reflect and remember the impact cancer has had on their lives.

To date, Postie Trek has raised over $77k for ACRF. With a route that spans rural towns across northern NSW and Queensland, the Postie Trek riders

Daniel’s Uncle Den

and support staff will at times quadruple the population size of the communities they are visiting – including Bundarra, Moonie, Mitchell, Blackall, Stonehenge, Old Cork, Winton, Yakara, Quilpie, Byrock, Lightning Ridge and Barraba. The tour kicks off on 26 April 2019.

The first Postie Trek, held in 2016, was in memory of Daniel’s Uncle Den. An avid motorcycle fan, Den spent years working as a postie, and passed away from Pancreatic Cancer six-months post diagnosis – he was only in his fifties. The second event was inspired by his grandfather, Murray, who also passed away from cancer. This year, Daniel has set his fundraising target at 100k.

“I wanted to create something positive out of the negativity of losing them,” says Daniel. “Because we had just lost a family member, we wanted the money raised to go to front line projects, to stop anyone else from going through what we had to. We wanted our kids not to have to worry about it.”

In between Postie Treks, Daniel’s wife Hannah was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer. The young mum in her thirties underwent a hysterectomy to remove her entire cervix. The experience has once again reinforced the impact cancer has on all Australians – with one in three men, and one in four women diagnosed with the disease before the age of 75.

Daniel was motivated to create Postie Trek after he was unsatisfied to see similar events with high overheads. He felt very little of the money raised was going towards the cause. Adamant that 100% of the money raised from the event would go directly to the cause, Daniel and the riders rely on community support wherever possible.

The 2019 Postie Trek route will span from Bundarra to Barraba

“Because of the drought and now the flood, we don’t anticipate as much help as previous years from the local community. It’s so hard to tell how much help we will get,” says Daniel. Postie Trek is rallying support wherever possible, and any donations will be truly appreciated.

At the core of the event, Postie Trek is a family endeavouring to grapple with the impact of this devastating disease. “Postie trek is trying to mend a family that’s still very much hurt” says Daniel.

Support to Postie Trek can be made via their Everyday Hero page or Facebook page.

Libby Cuts her Locks for Cancer Research

My name is Libby, and I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just before Christmas last year. I feel very lucky to live in today’s day and age, and I wanted to raise money so that treatment could improve further and maybe help someone like me in the future.

I knew that I was going to lose my hair with the type of chemo I was receiving so it was always my intention to shave my head. Firstly, because I wanted to tell cancer that only I say when I lose my hair, and because I thought it would be gross (and scary) to lose hair when it was longer. 

I then realised I could also raise money and help others.  Another ‘take that!’ to cancer! I set my fundraising target at $700, but so far, I’ve raised $4261!

What I found most surprising about my experience with cancer was how advanced modern medicine had become in such a short time. However, there are still so many types of cancers where treatments have not been refined enough and treatments are very intense. I want treatment to be advanced and targeted to the individual’s situation so that they can get better whilst maintaining quality of life.

When I was first diagnosed, I had a trip booked overseas to the UK and Australia, but a week out I was diagnosed with Lymphoma and was forced to cancel my trip – it was a bummer. I am now a little more than halfway through chemotherapy and have just booked my next trip to Fiji.

I feel a part of me come alive when I am dragging that suitcase through the terminal ready to board my flight to my next adventure. I can’t wait.

Thank you all for your generosity and support — it means a lot to me. Together we can help Australian Cancer Research Foundation create the world we want to see

‘Moving target’ breast cancer cells revealed by new imaging technique

WEHI researchers have developed a new imaging technique to visualise key steps in the evolution of cancer cells within tumours, potentially revealing how breast cancers evade treatment.
Microscopic view of breast ducts
A new imaging technique has allowed our researchers
to view tissues and tumours at high resolution that was
previously not possible. This image shows the three-dimensional
structure of mammary ducts of human breast tissue.
Image from Rios, Visvader et al, Cancer Cell.

Using a laboratory model of breast cancer, the researchers were able to view tumours in three dimensions, at previously unachievable high resolution. This revealed how cancer cells develop from pre-cancerous cells in the mammary ducts, and changes that occur in the tumour over time.

The research, which was published in the journal Cancer Cell, suggests that breast cancer cells are inherently changeable, morphing from one cell type to another at the molecular level – resembling cells that are more likely to spread.

At a glance

  • A new imaging technique has provided detailed new views of cells in tumours, revealing the changes that occur as breast cancer develops.
  • The research revealed that ‘pre-cancerous’ cells in the mammary gland only rarely develop into cancer cells, but that once a cancer forms, the cancer cells appear highly ‘changeable’, a feature that may promote resistance to certain therapies.

Viewing cancer cell evolution

The transformation of normal cells in the mammary gland to cancer cells occurs in many stages, with ‘pre-cancerous’ cells evolving into early-stage cancer cells, which may then undergo changes that make the cells more likely to spread away from the tumour. Until now, it has not been possible to visualise individual clones – ‘sister’ cells that descended from a single pre-cancerous cell – within a whole tumour. 

Microscopic image of colourful mammary ducts
Pre-cancerous clones (coloured green, yellow or red)
could be viewed in mammary ducts (blue) using the
new imaging technique. Only a few of these
pre-cancerous clones developed further to form a tumour. 
Image from Rios, Visvader et al, Cancer Cell.

Imaging technology enabled the research team to examine the frequency of pre-cancerous cells that develop into tumours in the mammary gland, and address the behaviour of cells within tumours. The study was led by Dr Anne Rios with Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. 

“Using a new imaging technique, we revealed that only a small proportion of pre-cancerous cells will develop into tumours,” Professor Visvader said. “In contrast, once a tumour has been formed, we discovered it was very likely for its cells to undergo a so-called ‘epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition’ (EMT). This is a change in the ‘molecular landscape’ – the genes that are switched on or off – within the cell, transforming it from an ‘epithelial’ form, to a ‘mesenchymal’ form that could have a growth advantage.

“Our models suggest that EMT is not a rare event but is an inherent feature of mammary tumour cells.”

Microscopic view of mammary duct
Mammary duct in the breast: The new technique
allows researchers to see into tissues at high resolution. 
Image from Rios, Visvader et al, Cancer Cell.

The results were obtained in laboratory models that closely resemble human breast cancer, and the team suspects human breast cancers are likely to also show a high rate of molecular EMT, said Professor Lindeman, who is also a medical oncologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. 

“If EMT frequently occurs in breast cancers, it means the cells are a ‘moving target’ – they can evade one set of weapons we have to fight the cancer, meaning we need to develop strategies that are more broadly targeted,” said Professor Lindeman. 

New views into tumours

Researcher with computer
Dr Anne Rios led the study at the Walter and Eliza
Hall Institute

A new three-dimensional imaging technique was critical for the discoveries said Dr Rios, who now works at the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in the Netherlands. 

“Until now it has been challenging to visualise the intricate structures of complex tissues such as breast tissue, or to see the true arrangement of cells within tumours,” Dr Rios said. “We developed a new, rapid way to prepare tissue samples that retains their intricate architecture but allows us to distinguish individual cells and the three-dimensional structure of the tissue.

Microscopic view of a human breast duct
The researchers were able to reveal the intricate structure
of mammary ducts in human breast tissue. 
Image from Rios, Visvader et al, Cancer Cell.

“Our method enabled us to capture previously unseen images of breast tissue and mammary tumours – this was crucial for us to discover the frequency of EMT within the tumours.

“We expect there will be many other applications for our new imaging method, to study normal and cancerous tissue samples,” Dr Rios said.

“We expect there will be many other applications for our new imaging method, to study normal and cancerous tissue samples,” Dr Rios said.

The research was supported by funding from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Cure Cancer Australia, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and the Victorian Government.

Original article published on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute website.

Cheers to 20 years!

My name is Cameron, and I’m from Aspendale, Victoria. I have a beautiful wife Deb, and two young boys – Koby and Lenny. I love the great outdoors, fishing and hunting.

Cancer struck me at 17 years old, and I was certainly not given good odds of survival. I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In my early years prior to cancer, I was an extremely fit and healthy teen, enjoying multiple games of AFL at school and club level.

After I was diagnosed was certainly the darkest part of my life, and I spent four months in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on an intensive trial program that was released at the time.

I still today thank the team at the Alfred and my primary nurse. It’s this level of dedication from doctors and nurses that drives me to want to help others.

It was made apparent to my wife and I a long time ago that the ACRF use the funds raised in the most important way – injected directly into research which will ultimately help find a cure.

The initial commencement of our donations was originally started by my beautiful wife, Deb and her mum decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro after the passing of Deb’s dad and Karen’s husband, Bob Short. Both Deb and Karen started something pretty special with their fundraising.

Although there are many charities out there all doing their bit, we found ACRF to be the best choice. We have been donating for approximately five years now with over $85,000 raised to date. I would like to personally thank all my family and friends for their continued support financially to raise this incredible amount.

We recently held a ‘Cheers to Twenty Years’ party in honour of my 20 years of remission. All the businesses, contacts and in some cases strangers that volunteered their services, made donations for auctions and contributed their time to ensure the night was a massive success. It was a huge joint effort with over 250 people raising $40,310.10 on the night!

Everyone is touched and affected by cancer. It’s becoming too common and it’s a painful process to watch or go through. It’s a disease I personally wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and certainly something you don’t want your loved ones going through. More research is required, and more funding is required – that’s why I support ACRF.

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

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 correlat