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Graeme Phillips Memorial Ride

Every year, Jess Phillips, her family and the community hold a very special horse ride to remember Jess’s much-loved father, Graeme and to raise vital funds for cancer research. Graeme passed away on the 27th May, 2011 at just 49, from kidney cancer. 

The Graeme Phillips Memorial Ride is held on the family-run horse, sheep and cattle property called Yarrabin, in the picturesque O’Connell Valley NSW. The ride brings together not only the local community but people from all over NSW that knew and loved Graeme. The ride is held to honour him and the many loved ones who have been lost to this devastating disease and to support those going through treatment. 

“When Dad passed away, it was left to Mum to raise the four of us kids. I’m the eldest and then the boys are Harry, Jack and Will,” Jess explained. “Not a day goes past that he isn’t in our hearts.” 

This year, the community chose to wear colours to represent a cancer that particularly touched their hearts, either through a friend, family member or their own experience. 

The colours that can be seen in the team photo represent: 

  • Dark Blue for prostate cancer 
  • Light Blue for blood cancer 
  • Purple for brain cancer 
  • Teal for ovarian cancer 
  • Pink for breast cancer 
  • Red for kidney cancer

Cancer does not discriminate and touches so many of us and ongoing research is needed. 

The Graeme Phillips Memorial Ride in 2021 raised over $7,000 and will fund innovative research that will bring us closer to a world without cancer.  

A heartfelt thank you to all involved for your ongoing support of vital cancer research.

To learn the many ways you can support ACRF, go to acrf.com.au/get-involved.

New Drug Combination Found to be Effective Against High-Risk Leukaemia

Australian scientists have found what could prove to be a new and effective way to treat a particularly aggressive blood cancer in children.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, or ALL, is the most common cancer diagnosed in children. Despite dramatic improvements in the survival of children with ALL over past several decades, children who develop ‘high risk’ ALL – subtypes that grow aggressively and are often resistant to standard treatments – often relapse, and many of these children die from their disease.

One common type of high-risk ALL for which new therapies are urgently needed is ‘Philadelphia chromosome-like ALL’ (Ph–like ALL), named for its similarity to another type, Ph–positive ALL. Shared genetic characteristics of these two types of high-risk ALL have led scientists to hypothesise that they may respond to similar treatments; specifically, a newer class of drugs known as kinase inhibitors.

However, experiments have shown that cases of Ph–like ALL that contain a genetic mutation known as CRLF2r – about half of all cases of this subtype – respond poorly to kinase inhibitors when used as a single agent. Scientists have since been investigating whether kinase inhibitors are more effective when used in combination with other agents.

In new research published this week in the international journal Leukemia, scientists at Children’s Cancer Institute tested more than 5000 drugs in combination with the kinase inhibitor, ruxolitinib, finding that ruxolitinib worked synergistically with several types of commonly used anticancer drugs, the most effective being glucocorticoids, topoisomerase I and II inhibitors, microtubule targeting agents, and antimetabolites.

“New therapies are urgently needed for high-risk ALL,” said lead researcher Professor Richard Lock, Head of the Blood Cancers Theme at Children’s Cancer Institute. “We are very encouraged by our results, which suggest we could be on the way to developing a more effective way to treat this cancer in some children.”

Based on their in vitro findings, the researchers then carried out in vivo testing in living models of disease known as ‘patient-derived xenograft models’ (PDXs) or ‘avatars’: mice specially bred to grow leukaemia cells taken from individual patients with CRLF2r Ph-like ALL. Results showed that the addition of ruxolitinib to a common treatment regimen called VXL (consisting of vincristine, dexamethasone, and L-asparaginase) enhanced treatment efficacy in two out of three avatars, achieving long-term suppression of leukaemia growth in one of these.

“The enhanced effect of treatment when ruxolitinib was added, and the variety of drug classes found to synergize with ruxolitinib in our laboratory, suggest promising potential for kinase inhibitors in the treatment of Ph-like ALL,” said Professor Lock. “We hope this leads to improved treatment options for children with this leukaemia in the near future.”

About Children’s Cancer Institute

Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. More than 40 years on, our vision remains unchanged – to save the lives of all children with cancer and to eliminate their suffering. The Institute has grown to now employ nearly 300 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence. Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in our hospitals as quickly as possible. These new treatments are specifically targeting childhood cancers, so we can develop safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations that will minimize side-effects and ultimately give children with cancer the best chance of a cure with the highest possible quality of life.

This story originally appeared on the Children’s Cancer Institute website.

ACRF have awarded four grants to the Children’s Cancer Institute for a total of $8.6M. If you would like to financially support cancer research, please go to acrf.com.au/donate.

How to Help Cancer Research

With over 200 known types of cancer, reaching a world without cancer is not a small task but at Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF), we believe it is possible.

That is why we continuously fund the technology, equipment and infrastructure needed to develop better prevention, earlier detection and more effective treatment across all cancer types.

The good news is, you don’t have to be a scientist to advance cancer research, there are many ways you can help. Read on to learn how you can help cancer research.

What is cancer research?

There are four types and four areas of cancer research.

Types of cancer research include:

  • Basic research  – research into the biological mechanisms related to cancer, as well as the variations impacted by both ethnical or racial diversity and environmental exposures.
  • Clinical research – determines the safety and efficacy of medications, devices and diagnostics for use in humans.
  • Population and prevention research – explores the key causes of cancer, cancer trends and factors that impact the numbers and outcomes of cancer diagnosis and care.
  • Translational research  – takes results from both basic and clinical research and moves them into everyday clinician care for patients.

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.

Research with the aim of developing new and improved cancer therapies would start with researchers exploring why a body’s natural system is not able to prevent the growth of cancerous cells. Our bodies all have an inbuilt defence mechanism that repairs damage to our cell DNA or forces the cell to die, if the damage is too great. Researchers work to discover what function within an individual cell’s DNA is under or overachieving to allow cancer cells to form, grow and multiply.

Once the why is understood, researchers look for ways to rectify these failures of the body’s defence system. This is not an easy task as there are many variables. While healthy cells replicate themselves exactly, each division of a cancer cell brings about new changes. This means that a treatment may not work on all cells within the same cancer.

However, cancer researchers are committed, they are creative, they are patient and they are resilient, and breakthroughs are made. These breakthroughs often lead to potential treatments.

Once a potential treatment has been developed a clinical trial is performed with the help of people with cancer, who volunteer to trial the new treatment.

If the clinical trial results prove that the new treatment is safe and effective, it may become part of the standard treatment regime for people with cancer.

6 ways to help cancer research

  1. Donate to cancer research: If a tax deductible, simple giving option is the best option for you to help cancer research, you can donate here.
  2. Participate in a sports event: Local marathons and community fun runs are not only a great way to get fit, but they provide supporters with a challenge through which they can raise funds for breakthrough cancer research. This year, with many running events cancelled due to COVID-19, we are asking that as cancer researchers continue working to improve the lives of Australians impacted by cancer, that you continue to run in support. If your favourite event has been cancelled, we would love for you to RUN REGARDLESS any time from 1 July to 31 October 2021.
  3. Shave or colour for cancer research: Do something brave. Stand in solidarity with those diagnosed with this devastating disease and shave, cut or colour for research into all types of cancer.
  4. Host a Cuppa for Cancer event: If you’re looking for a great way to combine a gathering of friends or colleagues with cancer awareness and fundraising, then hosting a Cuppa for Cancer could be just what you’re after.
  5. Create your own event: Bring your creative event ideas to life and help ACRF Outsmart Cancer – all cancers – for all Australians. The choice is yours whether you’re organising a backyard BBQ or a special event, hosting a DIY fundraiser is the perfect way to raise vital funds for improved prevention, earlier detection and more effective treatments for all types of cancer.
  6. Check out our A-Z list of fundraising ideas: If you are ready to get involved in a fundraising event, but you’re not exactly sure how you’d like to go about doing so, check out our A-Z list of charity fundraising ideas that will inspire you to put the ‘fun’ in ‘charity fundraising’.

How can I donate to cancer research?

There are many ways that you can donate to charity to help put an end to cancer. Many of our supporters choose to host events, or take on challenging feats – but for others, a simple giving option works best.

To learn more about the ways you can get involved with ACRF go to acrf.com.au/get-involved.

ACRF’s contributions to cancer research

Since 1984, thanks to our generous supporters, we’ve awarded 78 grants totalling over $165 million to 42 research institutions who have developed some of the most incredible and ground-breaking advancements in cancer research and treatment including:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Donate to ACRF and help fund ground-breaking cancer research

At ACRF, our mission is to reach a world without cancer. All donations go towards helping cancer researchers improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer. 

If you would like to make a donation, the giving options are listed below:

  • Become a regular giver: Regular giving is one of the most powerful ways you can support cancer research. Monthly donations help ACRF plan for the future and make more significant long-term impacts for people diagnosed with cancer.
  • Make a general donation: Together we unite with a shared vision of a future where the next generation will no longer experience the pain and heartache of cancer.
  • Donate in memory: Donating in memory of a loved one is a valuable way to celebrate their life while contributing to cancer research. We can support you to arrange charity donations at the funeral, or to make private memorial donations.
  • Donate in celebration: Donate to charity in celebration of a birthday, wedding or other occasion. By giving a gift to cancer research in lieu of traditional presents, you will be adding something special to an already momentous occasion.

Because of the generosity of people like you, we’ve helped the discovery and creation of large machines and small vaccines. Discoveries that help doctors diagnose cancer quickly and personalise treatments making them more effective.

At ACRF, we believe that together we can reach a world without cancer.

Charitable donations and tax deductions: How does giving money to charity reduce tax?

Every donation to Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) contributes to life-saving cancer research and donations of $2 and over are tax-deductible.

With the end of the financial year approaching, we thought we’d take the opportunity to explain how your gift to charities such as ACRF will reduce the amount of tax you need to pay. 

What is a tax deductible donation? 

A tax deductible gift or donation will reduce your taxable income and therefore the amount of tax you need to pay. 

A donation you make to charity is only tax deductible if the organisation is an ATO endorsed deductible gift recipient (DGR). ACRF is a DGR and also has the registered charity tick from the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC). This means that ACRF complies with the transparency and accountability standards of the ACNC Charity Register.

To claim a tax deduction for a gift or donation, it must also meet the below conditions:

  • It must be made to a DGR organisation.
  • It must truly be a gift or donation – that is, you are voluntarily transferring money or property without receiving, or expecting to receive, any material benefit or advantage in return. A material benefit is an item that has a monetary value such as a raffle ticket, fundraising chocolates or fundraising dinner ticket.
  • The gift or donation must be of money or property. This can include financial assets such as shares.
  • The gift or donation must comply with any relevant gift conditions. For some DGRs, the income tax law adds extra conditions affecting types of deductible gifts they can receive.

For full information on charity donation tax deductions, please visit the ATO website – Gifts and Donations or speak with your financial adviser or accountant.

How a charitable donation can reduce your tax 

When you file your tax return, it includes the total of how much you earned in a given year from everything that earned you money — everything you earned from work, selling investments and more.

This is your gross income. From this amount, you are able to deduct some things, including charitable donations, to organisations such as ours.

A reduced taxable income means that the tax you need to pay will also be reduced. This will result in a higher refund on tax paid throughout the year or a reduced ATO debt.

NB: To claim a tax deduction, you must have a record of your donation, such as a receipt.

Why should you give to charity in order to reduce your tax? 

In addition to reducing your taxable income, your donation will help a charity fulfil its purpose. At ACRF, our purpose is to equip cancer researchers with the tools they need to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of all cancer types. 

Giving to charity makes you feel good, every little bit counts, so you know your donation will make a difference. 

Giving to charity can inspire those around you to also give, meaning more donations and an even bigger impact. It could even bring about a family-wide effort to back a cause that has special significance to you as a group.

How tax deductible donations help fund ground-breaking cancer research

Every tax-deductible donation helps ACRF fund the technology, equipment and infrastructure Australian researchers need to continuously explore new and improved ways to prevent, detect and treat all types of cancer.

Since 1984, donations to ACRF have enabled us to award over $165 million to cancer research initiatives. Some of the most ground-breaking advancements in cancer research and treatment have been made as a result of this funding – helping each individual diagnosed with this complex and disruptive disease. 

If you make a tax deductible donation to ACRF today you will:

  • Help researchers learn how to interrupt the nutrition of cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed. 
  • Help develop treatments for tumours containing more than one cancer mutation.
  • Help fund equipment for a national program to improve outcomes for blood cancer patients.
  • Help determine the molecular structure of proteins in seconds for new cancer drug development.

Boost your tax return this year and make a tax-deductible donation to ACRF 

All donations of $2 or more to ACRF, at any time of the year, are tax deductible but there has never been a better time to give than now.

Our tax time appeal runs to 30 June, with 100% of your donation going towards vital cancer research.

Help us reach a world without cancer, donate here

Are Charity Donations Tax Deductible?

Donating to charity is a great way to contribute to a cause you feel passionate about whilst boosting your tax return.

Charity donations are tax deductible, however you should be aware of what constitutes a tax deductible donation so you can claim it correctly on your tax return. 

What is a tax-deductible donation?

A tax deductible gift or donation will reduce your taxable income, resulting in a higher refund on tax paid throughout the year or a reduced ATO debt when you complete your tax return.

Every donation you make to charity is only tax deductible if the organisation is an ATO endorsed deductible gift recipient (DGR). Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) is a DGR organisation and also has the registered charity tick from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). This means that ACRF complies with the transparency and accountability standards of the ACNC Charity Register.

To claim a tax deduction for a gift or donation, it must also meet the below conditions:

  • It must be made to a DGR organisation.
  • It must truly be a gift or donation – that is, you are voluntarily transferring money or property without receiving, or expecting to receive, any material benefit or advantage in return. A material benefit is an item that has a monetary value such as a raffle ticket, fundraising chocolate or fundraising dinner ticket.
  • The gift or donation must be of money or property. This can include financial assets such as shares.
  • The gift or donation must comply with any relevant gift conditions. For some DGRs, the income tax law adds extra conditions affecting types of deductible gifts they can receive.

To claim a tax deduction, you must have a record of your donation, such as a receipt. ACRF provides prompt receipting for all donations.

For full information on charity donation tax deductions, please visit the ATO website – Gifts and Donations or speak with your financial adviser or accountant.

Are charity donations tax deductible?

A tax deductible donation is an amount of $2 or more that you donate to an organisation endorsed as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR). It must be a genuine gift – meaning you cannot receive any benefit from the donation. Funds that are donated in exchange for benefits such as raffle tickets, fundraising chocolates, or fundraising dinner tickets, however genuine, are not tax deductible. However, pins, tokens, wristbands and stickers are deemed by the ATO as having no material value and are used by the DGR as marketing and promotional material.

All donations of $2 or more to ACRF are tax deductible.

Are donations to charity auctions tax deductible?

Donations to charity auctions are tax deductible if:

  • There is a transfer of money or property and the organisation is a DGR.
  • The transfer is made voluntarily.
  • The donor does not expect anything in return for the gift.
  • The donor does not materially benefit from the gift.

Are overseas charity donations tax deductible?

All Australian charities that operate overseas must be registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) who have set standards that govern how a registered charity must manage its activities and resources outside Australia. This in addition to the ATO’s, Overseas Aid Gift Deduction Scheme (OAGDS) enables Australian organisations to issue tax deductible receipts for donations to their overseas aid activities. These activities must be to support aid activities in countries that are declared as ‘developing’ by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Donations to overseas charities not registered in Australia, are not tax deductible.

Are corporate donations to charity tax deductible?

Corporate donations to DGRs are tax deductible. Businesses can claim the same benefits from donating that individuals do. Just like an individual donation, a corporate donation must be $2 or more in value to be tax deductible.

Make a tax-deductible donation to ACRF today

All donations of $2 or more to ACRF, at any time of the year, are tax deductible but there has never been a better time to give than now.

Our tax appeal is currently underway and until 30 June 2021, 100% of every donation is going directly to vital cancer research. That means your tax-deductible donation can have an even bigger impact. Donate to our tax appeal today

New Cellular Atlas Maps Out Healthy and Cancerous Breast Tissue

WEHI researchers have documented the diversity of cells in the human breast, explaining the relationship between healthy breast cells and breast cancer cells.
The diversity of cells in the human breast has been documented in a new ‘RNA atlas’.

The research, which relied on expertise spanning from breast cancer biology through to bioinformatics, measured gene expression in single cells taken from healthy women and cancerous breast tissue, including tissue carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene. This enabled the researchers to create an ‘RNA atlas’ that details the different cells found in these tissues.

The atlas, which was described in EMBO Journal, will enable researchers to better understand the different cell types that constitute breast tissue and how these change during the development of cancer.

The research was undertaken by a team including Dr Bhupinder Pal, Dr Yunshun Chen and Dr François Vaillant, and led by Professor Jane Visvader, Professor Gordon Smyth and Professor Geoff Lindeman.

At a glance

  • A multidisciplinary team used single-cell transcriptomics to generate an RNA atlas that documents gene expression in different cells in healthy, pre-cancerous and cancerous human breast tissue.
  • The atlas reveals the changes that occur within the breast during key events, including cancer development and menopause.
  • The atlas is freely available to researchers around the world and is anticipated to be an important resource for breast cancer research.

Understanding single cells

Lead researchers (from left) Dr François Vaillant, Dr Yunshun Chen, Professor Gordon Smyth, Professor Jane Visvader and Dr Bhupinder Pal.

The human breast is a complex tissue, comprising a wide range of cells including cells specialised for milk production and release, as well as fat cells and immune cells, Professor Visvader said.

“Different types of breast cancer arise from distinct precursor cells. However, breast cancer development can be impacted by other cells within the breast,” she said. “This atlas provides a high-resolution view into the various cell types that make up breast tissue in different states and a blueprint for studying changes that lead to breast cancer.”

Dr Pal, who is now a laboratory head at the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute, said ‘single-cell’ technologies enabled the research team to isolate more than 340,000 individual cells from breast tissues donated by women and men and to measure the expression of different genes in these cells.

“Our studies included healthy, pre-cancerous and cancerous tissue, enabling us to study the differences between these tissues,” he said.

A diverse and changing landscape

The research revealed a wide variety of cell types are present in the human breast, Dr Chen said.

“Complex bioinformatic analysis was crucial for documenting the complex cellular landscape. For example, we found that the composition of a particular subset of cells in the breast was altered by menopause – a period of significant hormonal change within the body,” he said.

The research also revealed many changes that occur within breast cancers, said Dr Vaillant.

“All the breast cancer types we studied displayed considerable diversity in their tumour cells, as well as in other cells found within the tumour. In particular, hormone-responsive cancers contained fewer dividing cells of a specific immune type, which could explain why many of these tumours are less responsive to anti-cancer immunotherapies.”

A multidisciplinary effort

Single-cell RNA sequencing is a new technology that has revolutionised how researchers can study complex tissues such as the breast said Professor Smyth, joint head of WEHI’s Bioinformatics division.

“Bioinformatics was critical for obtaining a global view of the diverse populations of cells within the different breast tissues we studied,” he said. “Computational methods enabled the team to detect patterns and differences in gene expression in the different cells within the breast at unprecedented resolution.”

Professor Visvader said the RNA atlas was the most comprehensive to-date for the human breast, and provided a framework for understanding the different cell types it can contain.

“This will be an invaluable resource for breast cancer researchers around the world. Our research also has important implications for not only understanding how breast cancers arise but also how cells in the surrounding environment contribute to their development, spread and response to treatment.”

The research team would like to acknowledge the important role that tissue donors, the Victorian Cancer Biobank and kConFab played in this study.

The research was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Victorian Government, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Ian Potter Foundation, the Michael Heine Family Foundation, and the Qualtrough Cancer Research Fund.

The original news article was posted on the WEHI website.

ACRF has awarded $10m in grants to WEHI for cancer research. Our esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee ensures that only the most promising cancer research initiatives in Australia receive our funding. If you would like to financially contribute, please go to acrf.com.au/donate

Honouring the Three Most Important Men in My Life

ACRF donor Linda Boettcher has left a bequest in her Will to honour the three most important men in her life.

Her brother, her husband and her father.

“My brother Ian passed from Leukaemia in 1979, aged just 20 years old. He was a fun loving, cheeky, healthy young man who rode motorbikes and lived life at full tilt.  

“After my brother died, Dad’s employer, Philips, made a generous donation to ACRF. Dad was so impressed with ACRF he joined the ACRF board of trustees.

“Dad quickly immersed himself in ACRF. He loved that ACRF specifically funded research equipment and technology. No charity in Australia, then or now, provides this sort of funding for cancer,” Linda said.

In 1984 Linda met and fell in love with a 6’5” Scotsman (also named Ian) who later became her husband. 

“My husband Ian, and my brother Ian would have got on like a house on fire. They both had a wicked sense of humour. Ian and I had 25 wonderful years together, spanning Scotland, the US, and finally Australia. Ian loved Australia so much, he quickly became a proud citizen.”

But just when life was at its best, cancer returned to upend Linda’s life again.

“In August 2007, Ian was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma Multiform (GBM), a brain cancer.

“Three months after Ian’s diagnosis, my beloved Dad, John was also diagnosed with cancer.

“Illness can have a strange effect on people. Ian and I were always very close, but his diagnosis brought us even closer. As Dad and Ian were both going through cancer treatments simultaneously, they had shared experiences and were a great support to each another.

“Tragically Ian left us in July 2010.

“Dad was always a very active, healthy and fit person. He exercised daily and his diagnosis of liver and bowel cancer didn’t slow him down. He kept up his strict regime of diet, exercise and daily stretching. He was an inspiration to us all.

“He received his OAM in 2003 for his service to community groups and industry associations and was an ACRF Trustee for 28 years – a wonderful heritage. We are so proud of him.

“Dad was then, and is now, an inspiration. When he passed in September 2012, he left a big hole in the lives of my mother and my two sisters.

“Today I consider myself part of the greater ACRF family. My Mum and my sisters and I attend ACRF events and keep up to date with the ground-breaking research ACRF supporters help make possible.

“When it came time to update my Will, there was not a question in my mind about leaving a bequest to ACRF. Cancer has touched my life so deeply and I know the impact ACRF funding has on advancing research outcomes.

“My bequest to ACRF honours my brother, my husband and my father. Despite having this horrible disease in common, all three of them were full of life, had a great sense of humour and kept a positive attitude throughout their illnesses. I am so very proud to have been part of their lives.

“And I know my bequest couldn’t go to better cause or organisation.”

– Linda Bottecher

If you would like more information on leaving a bequest to ACRF, please go to https://www.acrf.com.au/get-involved/leave-a-gift-in-your-will/

ACRF-Funded Equipment Crucial to Immunotherapy Trial for Children

In 2017, ACRF awarded the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute a grant totalling $1.75M. The funds were used to expand their existing cell manufacturing facility and buy new equipment needed to produce cellular immunotherapies.

In January 2021, the institute announced the trial of a new cellular immunotherapy (T-Cell therapy) aimed at preventing dangerous side effects for children who undergo stem cell transplants.

The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Centre for Immunotherapy and Vaccine Development, Professor Rajiv Khanna AO, confirmed that sterility testing equipment and a large capacity control-rate freezer, purchased thanks to ACRF funding, are crucial to the trial.

“Quality testing and long-term storage of T-Cell therapies are critical steps in our ability to offer a high-quality, safe therapy to each child enrolled in our clinical trial,” he said.

Professor Khanna explained the need for T-Cell therapies, how they are made and the role of ACRF-funded equipment in this process.

“Before a patient receives a stem cell transplant, certain immune cells – including killer T Cells – are removed from the donor’s cells. This lowers the risk of potentially fatal complications like graft-versus-host disease, where the donor’s immune cells attack the recipient’s tissues. However, this necessary step leaves transplant patients at high risk of developing viral infections because they do not have the disease-fighting cells to control infection.

“By taking white blood cells from the same donor and training them in the laboratory to recognise and destroy cells infected with the four most common viruses that affect these patients, we hope to effectively prevent complications arising,”

The T-Cell therapies (also referred to as “living drugs”) must undergo stringent quality control testing and be stored at an ultralow temperature (-190°C), before being administered. This is where ACRF funded equipment plays a crucial role.

According to Professor Khanna, “A crucial aspect in the successful manufacture of T-Cell therapies is quality control. Each product must undergo this testing to ensure it is free from microbial contamination and safe for patient use … our T-Cell therapy manufacturing process is critically dependent on our ability to store large batches of it for future infusion into patients.”

Automated sterility testing equipment, purchased with the ACRF grant awarded in 2017, has accelerated the quality control process. Professor Khanna said that sterility testing, utilising this equipment, is completed in five days instead of the traditional 14, allowing for faster release of the T-Cell therapy. This equates to patients, who may be critically ill, having access to the treatment sooner. In addition, Mycoplasma testing software, also purchased with ACRF funding, is being utilised in the quality control process.

The institute also purchased a large capacity control-rate freezer with the same grant which, as reported by Professor Khanna, enables high-quality, long-term storage and recovery of T-Cells before infusion.

Professor Khanna said, “Without ACRF funding we would not have been able to purchase this critical equipment and offer T-Cell therapies to our patients.”

Each child enrolled in the trial, receives fortnightly T-Cell therapy infusions once their stem cell transplant has engrafted (a 2-to-4-week process), with the aim to boost their immune system before they show any sign of viral complications.

ACRF are proud to have funded equipment that is crucial to the manufacture of an immunotherapy treatment, working towards improved treatment and outcomes for children who receive stem cell transplants.

Breakthroughs like this are made possible by the generous support of people like you. If you would like to financially support cancer research please go to acrf.com.au/donate

View the 2017 ACRF Centre for Advanced Cellular Immunotherapy Research grant details here.

First Sino-Australian Oncology Research Alliance Established

The clinical research cooperation platform is currently undertaking clinical trials for acupuncture aimed at cancer-related pain.

In 2017, Liverpool Hospital Cancer Services was awarded a $2M ACRF grant to go towards providing a facility for the first cancer wellness centre in South-West Sydney – The ACRF OASIS Centre.

The centre will focus on gathering scientific evidence on the use of a wide range of treatments including massage, acupuncture, exercise, Chinese medicine and diet in improving short and long-term treatment and quality of life outcomes for people impacted by cancer.

Last year, the ACRF OASIS Research Advisory group developed a strategic plan and continue to provide oversight to existing research projects.

Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs) continue to be their main research focus as a platform to build infrastructure, which will improve the quality and efficiency of clinical care outcomes.

A notable update is the establishment of the first Sino-Australian Oncology Research Alliance, in collaboration with the Chinese Medicine Centre at Western Sydney University. The clinical research cooperation platform is currently undertaking clinical trials for acupuncture aimed at cancer-related pain, with Chinese herbal medicine trials currently in analysis stages.

Meanwhile, detailed design work continues for the ACRF OASIS Centre as part of the Liverpool Health and Academic precinct redevelopment project. Researchers have been part of the user group to develop the project and have now signed off on the facility design.

If you would like to financially support cancer research please go to acrf.com.au/donate

View the 2017 ACRF OASIS Centre Research grant details here.

ACRF: Backing the Brightest Minds with the Boldest Ideas

As an ACRF supporter you would often hear us talking about the pioneering research your donations are enabling. As we head into May 2021, we thought it would be good to share with you the process we go through each year to select and fund these breakthrough research programs.

In March our grant selection process gets underway and by May we have received a number of applications for funding. As always, these applications are from research institutes across Australia seeking funding to enable, accelerate or expand cancer research initiatives.

To ensure ACRF funding can have the largest impact, our focus is always on the technology, equipment and infrastructure these research programs need. We often hear from scientists that technology is the most important thing needed to innovate and drive science forward. So, this area of funding continues to be our focus.

To guarantee the best and most promising projects receive funding each application is rigorously reviewed and assessed by ACRF’s volunteer Medical Research Advisory Committee (MRAC). A group of talented individuals who themselves are driving forces behind some of the best institutes and research programs across the country.

We are often asked what it takes for an idea to get funding from ACRF. We are always looking out for the big ideas, the ones that aren’t going to just take a step forward but propel us towards a world without cancer. But, these ideas need more than just guts. They have to be backed by brilliant science and thinking, they need to be feasible and they need to be sustainable beyond ACRF’s contribution.

To showcase the type of bold thinking ACRF supports we’d like to share one of our 2020 grant recipients with you. This grant, awarded to the University of Queensland’s Centre for Advanced Imaging to establish the ACRF Facility for Targeted Radiometals in Cancer (AFTRiC), aims to unlock the cancer curing potential of targeted alpha therapy.

An Australian-first facility, with a focus on alpha therapies (a type of precision medicine which has the potential to be more effective in killing cancer without damaging healthy tissue), AFTRiC met ACRF requirements to be considered for a major capital grant.

Research at the facility will focus on discovering better ways of specifically targeting and delivering therapeutic payloads to cancer cells, measuring their effects on tissue and translating them into clinical use.

ACRF funding will be used for the purchase of critical equipment needed to complete the research pathway from synthesis of novel agents to the development of new cancer therapies.

Professor David Reutens, Director of The University of Queensland’s Centre for Advanced Imaging, said “ACRF funding provides critical equipment to complete the research pathway from synthesis of novel agents through to clinical studies and patient therapy, enabling researchers to unlock the cancer-curing potential of targeted alpha therapy. The new facility will complement the nation’s most comprehensive suite of preclinical and clinical imaging research instruments at the Centre for Advanced Imaging allowing us to fast-track the development of new cancer therapies.”

We are looking forward to seeing the exciting new ideas that will be seeking funding from ACRF this year and we look forward to sharing updates on grants with you later in 2021.

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month here in Australia. We would like to take the opportunity to share information with you about bowel cancer in the hope that by raising awareness we can continue to reduce the number of people impacted by this type of cancer.

What is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

Bowel Cancer Awareness Month raises awareness for bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer. Bowel Cancer Awareness month is an opportunity to learn more about this type of cancer and to share information including stories of those impacted by bowel cancer. It is also a time to support organisations, such as ACRF, working to equip researchers with the tools they need to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer.

When is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month held?

 The month of June is Bowel Cancer Awareness month here in Australia.

Why do we commemorate Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

In Australia, bowel cancer is estimated to be the second most diagnosed type of cancer for both men and women and the third most common cause of death from cancer. It was estimated that over 15,000 Australians would be diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2020.

What is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer is caused by the mutation of genes that cause cells in the large intestine to reproduce abnormally and form polyps. Most bowel polyps are not cancerous, but some polyps may become cancerous if left to grow into tumours. Bowel cancer is also referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where it is found in the intestine. 

Bowel cancer most commonly develops in the lower part of the descending colon, the sigmoid colon or rectum. More than 95 per cent of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas, cancers that start in cells forming the mucus-making glands that lubricate the colon and rectum. Other rare types include squamous cell cancers, Gastrointestinal stromal tumours, carcinoid tumours, sarcomas and lymphomas.

Anyone can acquire it, but people over the age of 50 are at higher risk. That is why through its National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, the Australian government urges everyone aged 50 to 74 to undergo a free test which can be done at home.

What colour ribbon is for bowel cancer?

The ribbon for bowel cancer (known as colorectal cancer there) is blue. In Australia, a green ribbon with a red apple on it – an abstract representation of the human bowel, is sometimes used.

How you can help spread awareness about Bowel Cancer

Getting involved in Bowel Cancer Awareness Month gives everyone the opportunity to make a difference. You can:

  • Wear a ribbon and encourage conversations about bowel cancer.
  • Talk to family and friends about the realities of bowel cancer, clearing up myths along the way.
  • Get tested regularly and encourage others to get tested too.
  • Post and share information about bowel cancer on social media.
  • Support research into improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer, including bowel cancer.

There are many ways to support the work of ACRF and together, with everyone’s input, we will achieve our goal to outsmart cancer. For more information on how you can support bowel cancer research, learn how you can get involved with ACRF.

ACRF’s commitment to Bowel Cancer research

ACRF has partnered with several research institutes on initiatives to develop better prevention, earlier detection and more effective treatments for bowel cancer. Some of these research initiatives include:

  • ACRF Centre for Integrated Cancer Systems Biology in South Australia. This state-of-the-art facility is utilising next generation technologies to transform patient outcomes through the delivery of targeted and personalised cancer therapy for a number of types of cancer including bowel cancer.
  •  ACRF Breakthrough Technologies Laboratory to advance new treatments for many of Australia’s most common, and most deadly cancers, including bowel cancer.
  • ACRF Centre for Therapeutic Target Discovery, potentially forming a scientific cornerstone of the first comprehensive cancer centre established in Australia. The centre created an innovative Australian-first collaborative and integrated cancer research centre, where clinicians, diagnosing and treating cancer patients, work closely with scientists researching the disease.

Natalie’s Story

“Trying to work out what our lives would look like without my Dad in it broke me to my absolute core,” said Natalie who lost her beloved dad just seven months after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Natalie shared her story with us, explaining why she chose to take on the ACRF Hair Dare in support of cancer research. 

“Hundreds of men and women are diagnosed with cancer every year and it isn’t contingent upon age, gender or health. Some of the healthiest people I know have been diagnosed and several have passed from cancer. 

“I know this first-hand because my father was diagnosed with cancer in March 2018, and only seven months later passed away. He was an incredibly strong and healthy man with an amazing work ethic. He never took a sick day and would give any ‘young’ man a run for his money. 

“As a young woman with a small child, having to explain to my son why he won’t be able to see his ‘GanGan’ again was devastating. Trying to work out what our lives would look like without Dad in it broke me to my absolute core. 

“Witnessing Dad lose weight, become sick and tired every day was completely heartbreaking for both him and us. Cancer affects everyone around the person receiving treatment, not just the patient themselves. 

“Dad had so many more wonderful years left and he should be here now with us all, living his beautiful life. He should have been here to watch his grandson play his first game of football, he should have been here to witness his firstborn get married and he should have been here to enjoy what this wonderful world has to offer. 

“We now live our lives every day in honour of him and his spirit lives through all of us. 

“That is why I took on the Hair Dare for cancer research. I raised $624 and know that every single bit counts.”

ACRF would like to thank Natalie for sharing her story and for raising an incredible $624 for cancer research.

If you’ve been inspired by Natalie’s story and would like to take on the ACRF Hair dare in support of cancer research, click here.

What Embyro Development Can Teach Us About Fighting Cancer

Human development is one of the most elegant biological phenomena where rapid but controlled cellular growth leads to a healthy human life. On the other hand, cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells often resulting in insurmountable pain and death.

There are some uncanny resemblances between embryo development and cancer, and studying these similarities at a cellular level excites our newly appointed Women’s Cancer Senior Fellow at the Harry Perkins Institute, Dr Ankur Sharma, who is also Head of the newly established Oncofetal Ecosystem Laboratory.

Over the past five years Dr Sharma has been using technologies, particularly single cell analysis techniques, to develop a method of predicting the similarities between cancer and early development with a goal to predict which patients are likely to develop cancer and which cancers they are likely to have.

His work started by studying liver cancer and looking at why it develops. During this study he stumbled upon a very interesting finding: in cancer, some of the cells which are part of the cancer supporting system are also found in foetal tissue.

“We see very interesting similarities between foetal-liver development and liver cancer. The similarities occur as if cancer remembers the early blue-prints of life,” he says.

“If you go back and match the cell types present during foetal-liver development with the cell types of cancerous adult liver we find lots of shared cell types. Importantly, in both, the immune system is kept at bay. Now we are working on methods to revert these programs and thereby empower the immune system to fight cancer,” he says.

Currently Dr Sharma is particularly interested in analysing women’s cancers, such as endometrial tumours which also arise from highly regenerative cells, in this case in the linings of the uterus. Almost 1 in 9 women is affected by endometriosis. It is a disease that hampers reproductive life and some (~3%) may develop cancer in their lifetime. However, it remains to be investigated whether we can predict risk of cancer in these patients.

“We think this can be achieved by examining historic patient biopsies held in tissue banks or archives of patients who have endometriosis and then comparing the samples of those whose endometriosis resulted in cancer to those who did not, to see if there is a difference.

“After predicting which patients may develop cancer, the next challenge is to find ‘the right drug for the right patient’ by understanding why some patients respond to treatments and others do not.

“I am driven to overcome the emotional toll of enduring treatment, which at times is ineffective and expensive. Our aim is to find ‘the right drug for the right patient’ for ultimate benefit of patients, families and society,” he says.

This article originally appeared on the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research’s website. ACRF has awarded $5.35m in grants to the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research for cancer research. Our esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee ensures that only the most promising cancer research initiatives in Australia receive our funding. If you would like to financially contribute, please go to acrf.com.au/donate

Gene Discovery Suggests New Treatment Approach for Liver Cancer

In a comprehensive analysis of human gene activation data, researchers from the Centenary Institute have discovered that the dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP4) gene family is strongly implicated in the development of human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of primary liver cancer.

Reported in the journal ‘Cancers’, the research suggests that the DPP4 gene family and the four enzymes that it contains should be further studied to support potential new therapeutic approaches to fighting tumours found in the liver.

“In this study we interrogated a number of publicly accessible human gene databases including The Cancer Genome Atlas to identify cancers associated with the DPP4 gene family,” said Dr Hui Emma Zhang, researcher in the Centenary Institute’s Liver Enzymes in Metabolism and Inflammation Program and co-senior author on the paper.

“We were focused on the four enzymes of the DPP4 gene family– DPP4, DPP8, DPP9 and fibroblast activation protein (FAP). The role of the DPP9 enzyme was of particular interest as it hadn’t been studied previously with regard to liver cancer in humans,” Dr Zhang said.

Results from the data mining and subsequent analysis undertaken by the research team were revealing.

An association between high levels of the DPP9 enzyme and uterine and lung cancer was found suggesting that further investigatory work in both areas was required.

Elevated levels of DPP9, DPP4, FAP and DPP8 enzymes were also discovered in liver tumours and critically, were associated with poor survival rates in HCC patients.

“Our analysis indicates that high levels of all enzymes of the DPP4 family occur in liver cancers, which encourages us to target these enzymes as a possible new therapeutic approach to tackling the disease,” said Dr Zhang.

“With liver cancer incidence and mortality rates in Australia rapidly increasing new treatment options are urgently required both to improve and to save people’s lives.”

Over 2,000 Australians die each year from liver cancer. The five year survival rate for liver cancer is below 20%.

This article originally appeared on the Centenary Institute’s website. ACRF has awarded $7.5m in grants to the Centenary Institute for cancer research. Our esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee ensures that only the most promising cancer research initiatives in Australia receive our funding. If you would like to financially contribute, please go to acrf.com.au/donate

Melanoma Cancer Awareness Month

This Melanoma Awareness month, we’d like to take the opportunity to highlight how you can help in the prevention and early detection of melanoma and how you can support vital research focused on the early detection and better treatment of melanoma.  

At Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) we award grants for innovative cancer research initiatives that lead to breakthroughs and discoveries that help each individual diagnosed with this complex and disruptive disease. In fact, an ACRF funded initiative is set to establish one of the largest melanoma surveillance and early detection programs in the world. Read more about the project here.

When is Melanoma Cancer Awareness Month? 

May is Melanoma Awareness Month.  This month is commemorated across Australia and the world each year. 

Why is Melanoma Awareness month so important? 

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because if it isn’t detected early, it can spread to other organs. For that reason, early diagnosis is key to survival. While an individual with Stage 1 melanoma has a 99% chance of surviving longer than 5 years, that figure drops dramatically if the cancer spreads. Individuals with Stage 4 melanoma have just a 20% chance of surviving longer than 5 years.

Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world and is often referred to as ‘Australia’s national cancer’.

Melanoma is the third most diagnosed cancer in Australian men and women and the most common cancer affecting 15 to 39-year-old Australians.

In fact, more than 1600 Australians die each year from this devastating disease, which is mostly preventable and highly treatable if detected early.

Melanoma Cancer Awareness Month is so important to commemorate in Australia due to it’s high rates within our country. This month aims to raise awareness about melanoma to encourage more people to get regular checks as well as raising much needed funds to help improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of melanoma.

What colour represents melanoma awareness month?

Melanoma awareness is represented by the colour black.

To help raise awareness throughout the month of May, you can wear the colour black to show your support and encourage conversations to start with your family, friends or colleagues about melanoma.

What colour ribbon is for melanoma cancer? 

The melanoma awareness ribbon is black.

Instead of wearing black clothes, you can choose to wear a black ribbon to support Melanoma Cancer Awareness Month.

How can you raise awareness for Melanoma Cancer this March

There are many ways you can support those diagnosed with melanoma. Support each individual by:

  • Wearing a black ribbon and encouraging conversations about melanoma.
  • Shaving to raise funds for cancer research.
  • Participating in the many fun runs or run your own race.
  • Protecting your skin from the sun and encouraging others to do the same.
  • Getting regular skin checks and encouraging others to do the same.
  • Sharing this page to raise awareness of melanoma and the risks.
  • Donating to cancer research.

There are many ways to support the work of ACRF and together, with everyone’s input, we will achieve our goal to outsmart cancer. Learn how you can get involved with ACRF and support research into all types of cancer, including melanoma.

ACRF’s contribution to melanoma research

ACRF is committed to improving the prevention, detection and treatments of melanoma.

ACRF has provided funding to several research institutes for research programs to develop earlier detection and more effective treatments for melanoma.

In 2018, ACRF awarded almost $10m to establish the ACRF Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis. A diagnostic centre set to revolutionise the early detection of melanoma. The rollout (later this year) of 15, three-dimensional whole body imaging systems across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria will significantly enhance the capability and capacity 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, through a telemedicine network. This will greatly reduce appointment times and healthcare costs, as melanoma is often referred to as Australia’s ‘national cancer’.

In 2011, ACRF awarded $5M to establish the ACRF Melanoma Research Laboratories. This grant was used as seed-funding for the construction of two world-class melanoma research laboratories. 

Click here to read more about this grant.

‘Catch-22’ Scenario Good News for Some Cancer Patients

Image above: (from left to right) Bachelor of Science student Gavin Turrell, UQ Research Fellow Dr Meihua Yu, Dr Janin Chandra, Professor Ian Frazer, and UQ Research Fellow Dr Ahmed Mehdi.

Traits that allow cancer cells to escape the body’s natural defence system and develop into tumours are actually a good indicator to a patient’s survival prognosis, according to University of Queensland researchers.

UQ Diamantina Institute researcher Dr Janin Chandra described the discovery as a “catch-22 situation” and good news for patients with either cervical or head and neck cancer who have immune inhibitory traits present in their tumours.

“Our natural defence system is programmed to pick up abnormal cancerous cells and destroy them before they can grow into a tumour mass and spread through our bodies,” Dr Chandra said.

“However, the tumour can grow by developing cunning strategies to either escape our natural defence system, or to actively block it.

“We call these strategies immune inhibition, and until recently we thought this trait was a bad thing.

“Our recent research has shown that tumours of patients with either cervical cancer or head and neck cancer which had many immune inhibition traits, had the best five-year survival prognosis compared to patients with tumours without the traits.”

The data also showed that tumours with immune inhibition traits also had high levels of defence system activity, which fight against cancer.

Dr Chandra said researchers now had a better understanding that having immune inhibition traits in the tumour was actually not bad, and in fact was a sign of immune activation.

People who lack this immune activity inside the tumour, regardless if ‘good’ or ‘bad’ immune activity, have a worse prognosis.

She said this knowledge had important implications in designing future therapies for cancer.

“On average only 20 percent of patients respond to new immune-targeted drugs, so we are organising a clinical research study to develop predictors of response to these drugs,” Dr Chandra said.

“You need to give patients that aren’t responding to treatment an alternative, so our research is geared to identify new targets that could be used for patients who don’t have any natural defence cells in their tumours.”

Image above: (from left to right) Bachelor of Science student Gavin Turrell, UQ Research Fellow Dr Meihua Yu, Dr Janin Chandra, Professor Ian Frazer, and UQ Research Fellow Dr Ahmed Mehdi.

The research paper – Immune-inhibitory gene expression is positively correlated with overall immune activity and predicts increased survival probability of cervical cancer patients – is published in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences Molecular Diagnostics and Therapeutics (DOI: 10.3389/fmolb.2021.622643).

This story originally appeared on the UQ Diamantina Institute website.

ACRF has awarded five grants to the UQ Diamantina Institute, including the initial seed funding for the development of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.

Dual drug approach to treat deadly melanoma

Research from the Centenary Institute has found that a new dual drug approach could offer up a highly effective treatment strategy for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer responsible for more than 1,700 deaths each year in Australia.

Reported in the ‘Journal of Investigative Dermatology’ the findings have the potential to benefit melanoma patients who do not respond favourably to current therapeutic treatments.

In the study, the research team found that the combined use of inhibitors targeting two specific proteins markedly reduced the growth of melanoma both in cellular experiments as well in models with mice. The two proteins targeted were the bromodomain and extra-terminal domain (BET) family of proteins and cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9). High expression of BET and CDK9 proteins are associated with an adverse prognosis in melanoma patients and also regulate melanoma cellular activity.

According to Dr Abdullah Al Emran (pictured) , researcher in the Melanoma Oncology and Immunology Program at the Centenary Institute and lead author of the study, a key finding from the study was that the combination BET and CDK9 inhibitor treatment demonstrated significantly increased melanoma killing benefits when compared to use of the same inhibitor drugs when tested alone.

“Co-targeting BET and CDK9 proteins with inhibitors killed high numbers of melanoma cells regardless of type or status including melanomas exhibiting both BRAF and NRAS genetic mutations. The inhibitors worked by disrupting separate signalling pathways found within the melanoma cells–those responsible for cell communication and growth and this may explain the effectiveness we saw,” he said.

“We also found molecular gene signatures suggesting biomarkers of which melanoma patients were most likely to respond to this BET and CDK9 inhibitor treatment,” he added.

Dr Jessamy Tiffen, Head of the Centenary Institute’s Melanoma Epigenetics Laboratory and senior author on the research paper believes that use of combination drug treatments may offer up a new strategic approach in the fight against the often fatal skin cancer.

“Over half of all melanoma patients do not respond to current therapies and new treatment approaches are urgently required. We’ve now seen that drugs working in combination are able to produce a synergistic effect when it comes to the killing of melanoma cells. This strategy could lead to higher survival rates for patients and as a result we will be further exploring this exciting avenue of research,” she said.

This article originally appeared on the Centenary Institute Website.

In 2016, ACRF awarded at $2.5M grant to Centenary Institute for the establishment of the ACRF Tumour Metabolism Laboratory.

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

The ACRF Accelerate program

This week Australian Cancer Research Foundation has launched an exciting new initiative. The ACRF Accelerate program has been designed in line with our mission to reach a world without cancer. The program provides prospective donors with a unique philanthropic opportunity to evaluate and contribute towards promising cancer research projects. 

Survival rates from cancer are increasing thanks to decades of research, but around 396 Australians are still diagnosed with cancer every day. The Accelerate program connects generous donors who want to solve the problem of cancer with projects that have the ability to do just that.  

Tom Dery AO, ACRF’s Chair said: 

A year ago, we could never have imagined the world as it is today. From the devastation of fires and floods, through to a complete transformation in the way we connect, work, access healthcare, and travel. 

While the pandemic has highlighted the critical need for medical research into vaccine development, there also remains an ongoing need for investment in cancer research. That priority remains unchanged, and ever present.  

Despite improvements in patient outcomes, cancer continues to impact far too many lives. With vast economic pressures transforming the research funding environment, the work of Australian Cancer Research Foundation and the life-changing ACRF Accelerate program remains more vital than ever. 

Over the past 12 months, we’ve been inspired by the many generous Australians dedicated to supporting globally significant cancer research through our Accelerate program. We’re proud to say that groundbreaking, world-leading discoveries are happening right here in our own backyard because of their donations. 

As leaders in philanthropic investment, ACRF is committed to the rigour, review and assessment of the projects presented in the ACRF Accelerate program, providing you with confidence that every donation will result in real, measurable impacts for those living with cancer. 

On behalf of the ACRF board, I’m proud and excited about the potential opportunity this year’s ACRF Accelerate program presents to donors and researchers committed to changing the human and social impact of cancer in Australia. 

We invite you explore these innovative projects and consider a meaningful contribution towards their success. Find out more here: acrf.com.au/philanthropy

What is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month?

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. We’d like to take the opportunity to share information with you about colorectal cancer (or bowel cancer) in the hope that by raising awareness we can continue to reduce the number of people impacted by this type of cancer.

What is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month?

National Colorectal Cancer Month raises awareness for colorectal cancer, commonly known as bowel cancer. Colorectal Cancer Awareness month is an opportunity to learn more about this type of cancer and to share information including stories of those impacted by colorectal cancer. It’s also a time to support organisations, such as ACRF, working to equip researchers with the tools they need to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is caused by the mutation of genes that cause cells in the large intestine to reproduce abnormally and form polyps. Most bowel polyps are not cancerous, but some polyps may become cancerous if left to grow into tumours. Colorectal cancer is also referred to as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where it is found in the intestine. 

Colorectal cancer most commonly develops in the lower part of the descending colon, the sigmoid colon or rectum. More than 95 per cent of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas, cancers that start in cells forming the mucus-making glands that lubricate the colon and rectum. Other rare types include squamous cell cancers, Gastrointestinal stromal tumours, carcinoid tumours, sarcomas and lymphomas.

Colorectal Cancer facts In Australia

Colorectal Cancer is estimated to be the second most diagnosed type of cancer for both men and women and the third most common cause of death from cancer. It was estimated that over 15,000 Australians would be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2020.

When is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month?

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month in the US and in Australia, June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

How to create colorectal cancer awareness

Getting involved in Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month gives everyone the opportunity to make a difference. You can:

  • Wear a blue ribbon and encourage conversations about colorectal cancer.
  • Talk to family and friends about the realities of colorectal cancer, clearing up myths along the way.
  • Get tested regularly and encourage others to get tested too.
  • Post and share information about colorectal cancer on social media.
  • Support research into improving the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.

There are many ways to support the work of ACRF and together, with everyone’s input, we will achieve our goal to outsmart cancer. For more information on how you can support colorectal cancer research, learn how you can get involved with ACRF.

What is the Colorectal cancer awareness colour?

Blue is the colour for colorectal cancer awareness. Supporters are encouraged to wear blue clothes and/or blue ribbons to help spread awareness.

ACRF’s contribution to Colorectal cancer research

ACRF has partnered with several research institutes on initiatives to develop better prevention, earlier detection and more effective treatments for colorectal cancer. Some of these research initiatives include:

  • ACRF Centre for Integrated Cancer Systems Biology in South Australia. This state-of-the-art facility is utilising next generation technologies to transform patient outcomes through the delivery of targeted and personalised cancer therapy for a number of types of cancer including colorectal cancer.
  •  ACRF Breakthrough Technologies Laboratory to advance new treatments for many of Australia’s most common, and most deadly cancers, including colorectal cancer.
  • ACRF Centre for Therapeutic Target Discovery, potentially forming a scientific cornerstone of the first comprehensive cancer centre established in Australia. The centre created an innovative Australian-first collaborative and integrated cancer research centre, where clinicians, diagnosing and treating cancer patients, work closely with scientists researching the disease.

Spencer’s Story

This Colorectal Cancer awareness month we’d like to shout out to the heroes that continue to ensure ACRF can fund pioneering research to improve patient outcomes.

Loyal ACRF supporter Spencer Hird has supported bold cancer research by putting rubber to the road. He’s run Sydney’s City2Surf 47 times – even participating in the event virtually during COVID.

Sadly, Mr Hird lost his wife Heather in 1994 to bowel cancer. “I started fundraising soon after her passing and my focus has always been to give to cancer research. I am always impressed when I hear of improvements to treatments and diagnosis. It is so good to feel I might have contributed to that” says Mr Hird.

Thank you for your continued support Mr Hird.

Find out how you can support bold cancer research at acrf.com.au/get-involved

Steve’s Story

About 17 years ago, I shaved my head, moustache – and my legs! – to support a friend of mine, who sadly died from breast cancer. 

Around the same time, I had a spot removed from my back which turned out to be a stage 3 melanoma, so I had a large section removed from my back. I thought I was all good until 2017, when I found out that I had a secondary brain tumour. It was removed by the wonderful team at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. 

I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to trial immunotherapy for a year and had my thyroid removed late December 2019. I was in remission and going well until early February 2021, when I found out I had another brain tumour. This one had grown fast – from nothing in November 2020 to 20mm in February 2021. 

I will be undergoing a new treatment at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, called a Gamma Knife, which will shrink and kill the tumour. I will then undergo more immunotherapy to get rid of a couple of small tumours near my spine. 

Then I will be as good as new! Anything I can do to raise money to help is only a small thing compared to those who have done much more before me. Their support has allowed me to get the best and latest treatment to help me live a bit longer. 

I shaved my head and my moe for ACRF through the Hair Dare and raised $650. My youngest son Michael has taken on the dare too and I’m very proud of him. 

To learn more about how to shave, cut or colour for cancer research, head to shave.acrf.com.au

Terence’s Story

In late 2015 doctors found a mass growing in my brain after a routine check-up. After monitoring it for a few years, in late 2019 my neurosurgeon discovered that the mass was growing. Two thousand and twenty sucked for a lot of people but throwing in brain surgery and six months of chemo, all while a global pandemic was raging, wasn’t how I had pictured my wedding year!

I married my wife, Alyce, in February before my surgery – just before the lockdowns, so a win for us, I guess.  The year ended much better as we welcomed our son, Ryan, two weeks after chemo ended. He’s our number two, Emily, our daughter, is four. I take my hat off to Alyce for putting up with (I mean, supporting) me through treatment all the while going through pregnancy! Now THERE’S an inspiring story, but not mine…

One day during treatment, I got talking to an older lady who has been battling cancer for years and I was in awe of her positive attitude and bubbly personality. One thing she said that resonated with me was, “My dear, chemo is just the beginning… This journey living with cancer isn’t a sprint, as they say, it’s a marathon. The real challenges are up here,” as she pointed to her head.

So, that night, I decided that 12 months after I completed chemo, I was going to run a marathon. I completed chemo on 18 September 2020. The Blackmores Sydney Running Festival marathon is on the 19 September 2021. Fate perhaps? I’ve never been much of a runner, but why let fear stop me from doing something scary or different? I can’t change the fact that I have brain cancer. What I can change is the way I feel about it and to show those around me that cancer isn’t the GAME OVER moment some people fear it is. Why waste what life we have left in fear of things that could open our eyes to the world?

I’m running this marathon for me and all brain cancer warriors out there and also the people who dedicate their lives to overcoming all forms of cancer.

There are many ways to support the work of ACRF and together, with everyone’s input, we will achieve our goal to outsmart cancer. To find out more head to acrf.com.au/get-involved

Key Steps Discovered in Production of Critical Immune Cell

WEHI researchers have uncovered a process cells use to fight off infection and cancer that could pave the way for precision cancer immunotherapy treatment. 

Through gaining a better understanding of how this process works, researchers hope to be able to determine a way of tailoring immunotherapy to better fight cancer.

Led by Dr Dawn Lin and Dr Shalin Naik and published in Nature Cell Biology, the research provides new insight into the way cells adapt to fight infection.

Dr Shalin Naik and Dr Dawn Lin

This research lays the foundation for future studies into the body’s response to environmental stressors, such as injury, infection or cancer, at a single cell level.

At a glance

  • WEHI researchers have studied dendritic cells, a crucial component of the immune system, to gain a deeper understanding of how the body produces these cells to fight cancer and infection
  • The study found how the Flt3L hormone increased dendritic cells numbers
  • Researchers will now apply this knowledge to improving immunotherapy techniques to create more personalised treatments

Flt3L hormone plays vital role in fighting off infection

Dendritic cells are immune cells that activate ‘killer’ T cells, which are vital for clearing viral infections, such as COVID-19, but also for triggering a response to cancers such as melanoma and bowel cancer.

The Flt3L hormone can increase dendritic cell numbers, helping the immune system to fight off cancer and infection.

Dr Naik and his team studied developing immune cells at a single cell level to gain a deeper understanding of how the body uses these cells to trigger immune responses.

“There is one type of dendritic cell that the body uses to fight some infections and cancer. The Flt3L hormone increases numbers of this particular dendritic cell.”   

“We know quite well how the dendritic cell fights the cancer, but we don’t know how the Flt3L hormone increases the numbers of those dendritic cells,” he said  

Single-cell barcoding provides vital clues to how dendritic cells function

Researchers used a single-cell ‘barcoding’ technique to uncover what happened when dendritic cells multiplied.

“By using cellular barcoding – where we insert short synthetic DNA sequences, we call barcodes inside cells – we were able to determine which cells produced dendritic cells in pre-clinical models,” Dr Naik said.

“As a result of this research, we now better understand the actions of the Flt3L hormone that is currently used in cancer immunotherapy trials, and how it naturally helps the body fight cancer and infection. This is a first step to design better precision immunotherapy treatments for cancer.” 

Using single cell technology to improve immunotherapy treatment

This research answers a 50-year-long question as to what causes a stem cell to react in response to immense stress, such as infection or inflammation.

“We have known that the Flt3L hormone increases the number of dendritic cells for decades but now there is a focus on applying this knowledge to cancer immunotherapy and potentially to infection immunotherapy as well,” Dr Naik said.   

“The next stage in our research is to create ‘dendritic cell factories’ using our new knowledge, to produce millions to billions of these infection fighting cells and then use those in immunotherapy treatments.”

“These findings are a vital first step to improving immunotherapy treatments for patients, to help them better fight cancer and infection.”

WEHI authors

Dawn Lin, Luyi Tian, Sara Tomei, Daniela Amann-Zalcenstein, Tracey Baldwin, Tom Weber, Jaring Schreuder, Olivia Stonehouse, Samir Taoudi, Matthew Richie, Philip Hodgkin, Ashley Ng, Stephen Nutt, Shalin Naik.

This article originally appeared on the WEHI website. ACRF has awarded $10m in grants to WEHI for cancer research.

Our esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee ensures that only the most promising cancer research initiatives in Australia receive our funding. If you would like to financially contribute, please go to acrf.com.au/donate

Microscopic behaviour of developing breast cells uncovered

An improved high-tech fluorescence microscopy technique is allowing researchers to film cells inside the breast as never seen before.

This new protocol provides detailed instructions on how to capture hi-res movies of cell movement, division and cooperation, in hard-to-reach regions of breast tissue.

The technology – called multiphoton microscopy – uses infrared lasers to illuminate fluorescently labelled breast cells without harming them, so that elusive cell behaviours can be observed within living tissue.

With the new method, WEHI researchers have revealed how breast cells rearrange, interact and sense their environment as the breast grows during development and recedes after lactation.

Cell imaging within living tissue has been achieved in many organs but the breast has remained especially challenging. So far, this new method has revealed exciting and unexpected details of breast biology and will help teams worldwide to advance research on breast development and cancer.

At a glance

An improved imaging protocol is allowing researchers to film cells as never seen before.

This new application of high-tech microscopy has enabled the imaging of stem cells as they guide breast development, and immune cells as they monitor the breast ducts to keep them healthy.

By imaging living, moving cells in their natural setting, researchers can better understand how our bodies function in real-time at the microscopic scale.


Understanding cell function

The protocol was developed by researcher Dr Caleb Dawson, in a team led by Professor Jane Visvader and Dr Anne Rios, in collaboration with Dr Scott Mueller from the Doherty Institute, and published in Nature Protocols today.

Dr Dawson said the filming technique unlocked a variety of applications to better understand how cells function, interact and develop.

“One of the most valuable things we have been able to film with the technique are the terminal end buds (TEBs) in breast tissue,” he said.

“These are club-like structures at the tips of the mammary ducts that grow during puberty to produce the branched tree structure of breast tissue. The unique cells inside the TEBs have never been filmed like this before so it was fascinating to watch this process for the first time.”

“We have watched a cell behaviour inside the TEB that was hypothesised in the 1980s but was never proven, and which has implications for breast stem cell function.”


Previously, TEBs had been studied by dissociating the individual cells and filming them outside the breast or by taking still images. With these approaches it is difficult to know how the cells actually behave and interact in living tissue.

“By filming the moving cells inside intact breast tissue in laboratory models, we are able to grasp a better understanding of how the cells behave and cooperate to help the breast to form and function properly.”

Dr Dawson said that he was grateful for the brilliant team and the cutting-edge technology provided by the Center for Dynamic Imaging at WEHI that made this work possible.

“When we embarked on our mission to film these processes, I had little knowledge of the effort it would require. With the vision of leading breast researchers Professor Visvader, Dr Rios and Professor Geoff Lindeman, alongside the live imaging expertise of Dr Mueller, and the microscopes available, we were able to achieve something that very few labs in the world have accomplished,” he said.

Opening the doors to new research opportunities

Dr Dawson said the filming technique could be applied to a host of research endeavours.

“Our approach enables us to image up to six fluorescent colours at the same time, which allows us to see how more cell types interact,” he said.

“We can image different stages of breast development, immune cells, lymph nodes and hair follicles and watch how individually-labelled cells function.”

“This means we can create beautiful images with extremely fine details about the cell shapes to get a better understanding of how cells interact and change over time. This opens up many new research opportunities and we are only just starting to see the potential of what this could be used for.”

Dr Dawson said he hoped the imaging protocol would make this type of imaging more widely accessible to researchers.

“There are very few research institutions doing this really high-end imaging, so it is great that we have this capacity in Melbourne and can share it with research teams worldwide.”

The original news article was posted on the WEHI website. Video courtesy of WEHI.

ACRF has awarded $10m in grants to WEHI for cancer research. Our esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee ensures that only the most promising cancer research initiatives in Australia receive our funding. If you would like to financially contribute, please go to acrf.com.au/donate

Meet Leo.

In his first year of life, Leo was diagnosed with stage three kidney cancer.

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“When our son, Leo, was seven months old we noticed he was frequently sick. Following a very high temperature that would not break, Leo’s abdomen began to swell. When the doctor saw Leo’s stomach his eyes widened with panic. My partner, Dave, and I knew we were in serious trouble.

My name is Susan, and I am mother to two-year old Leo. Last year, our young family was nearly torn apart by kidney cancer.

I’ll never forget the night Leo’s doctor told us to rush him to the emergency room.

An ultrasound revealed an unknown 14 cm mass growing in the right side of Leo’s abdomen. Our son was getting more ill by the day, he would cry in pain all through the night. His fever was now constant and the lump in his abdomen was larger than ever before.

Before our son had even turned one, he was taken away from us to undergo extremely dangerous surgery to remove his entire right kidney.

For seven hours and 45 minutes, we reeled with anxiety and fear. I would sit, I would stand, I would cry, I would stare, and I would pace back and forth. It was excruciating.

As we walked into the PICU where Leo was recovering, nothing could have prepared us for the sight of our baby after his surgery. He was bruised and there were tubes everywhere. He had a huge gash across his tiny belly and was struggling to breathe.

When we got the tumour pathology results, the oncologist couldn’t hide his concern and before he could even speak I knew it was bad news.

 I was cold with fear as he told us Leo had been diagnosed with stage three Wilms tumour, a type of kidney cancer.

Leo underwent eight months of debilitating chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He was too young to communicate to him what was happening. All we could do was to try and make each hospital experience as fun as possible for him. We’d take toys and snacks and pretend to be happy. As soon as I would leave the room, the floodgates would open. It was heartbreaking to see our son suffer.

Finally, we reached the end of the treatment regime and Leo was given a full body scan.

To our sheer joy and relief, Leo was pronounced cancer-free and in remission. We couldn’t believe that we were lucky enough to come out of this the way we did.

The feeling of happiness we experienced was mixed with other emotions: fear, survivor’s guilt, and re-adjustment into our ‘new normal’ life. But with this came the acknowledgement that the only thing to do is to live each day and live it well –
and it is like learning to live again.

We know there are many Australian families who will not be as lucky as we are this Christmas, and it is our hope that together with fellow ACRF supporters we can help fund cancer research to outsmart cancer for future generations.

Please donate this Christmas to give the gift of life-saving cancer research and help more Aussie kids like our Leo.

If you donate before 31 December, 100% of your donation will go directly towards cancer research equipment and infrastructure to make breakthroughs possible.”

– Susan, ACRF supporter

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Stopping cancer’s clock

Cancer Scientists at Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Western Australia, the Children’s Medical Research Institute in Sydney and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne, Germany, have developed a way to wrap artificial proteins around the ends of chromosomes to effectively block the uncontrolled growth that occurs with most cancers.

Associate Professor Oliver Rackham’s team at the Perkins has engineered proteins that effectively clamp tightly around the end of the single stranded DNA in the chromosome.

“These proteins lock down the DNA so telomerase can’t touch it.”

Professor Rackham says that about 90% of cancer cells have the telomerase enzyme, when they shouldn’t and that cancer cells grow uncontrollably whereas normal cells limit their growth.

“A normal cell grows for just the right amount of time that is required for us to develop and maintain our bodies.”

“They control their growth with a molecular counting mechanism that tells the cell how old it is. This occurs on the ends of our chromosomes which have little caps on them. Each time the cell divides a little bit at the cap of the chromosome disappears. Once the caps shrink to a certain length the cell knows that it has divided too many times and it will then stop growing or die.

“However, cancer cells subvert the counting mechanism that shrinks the ends of our chromosomes so cancer cells keep replicating indefinitely.”

“The way cancer cells avoid this control mechanism is by producing an enzyme called telomerase which we need when we are babies and growing very fast but which we stop producing when we stop rapidly growing,” he said.

The enzyme extends the ends of the single strands of the DNA, or the caps in cancer cells, which effectively sends the message ‘we’re going to live forever’. So the chromosome thinks it’s a brand new chromosome.

New proteins to target DNA

“Our laboratory designed proteins that, for the first time, can actually recognise the single stranded DNA and bind it. We can basically program these proteins to target them.

“Previously scientists haven’t been able to target the single stranded DNA. The beauty of this new technology is that we have developed proteins that can actually recognise the DNA and bind to it.”

The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research by providing $5.3 million and the Children’s Medical Research Institute  by $15.2 million towards cutting edge research technology.

Roland’s story – in honour of Men’s Cancer Month

“When I was 34 years old, I thought I was invincible. I was a new dad to two young daughters, Jade and Amber. From the minute they were born, I was totally in love with my babies. I wanted to spend every moment with them, but I was also determined to provide for their future.

I burnt the candle at both ends.

It was 1988 and I had started my first bakery business. It became an immediate success, and after the first year I had twenty employees and working 18-hour days was typical. I was living on coffee and adrenaline.

For a few months, I had been ignoring the pain in my stomach. Then, one day I was rushed to hospital with a large swelling beneath my ribcage. I vividly remember the moment the doctors told me they had discovered a 20cm tumour wrapped around my intestines.

It was Burkitts Lymphoma, and I was told I had less than three months to live.

I remember looking at Jade and Amber’s uncomprehending faces at the end of the hospital bed and in that moment I decided there was no way that I wasn’t going to be around to raise my girls.

At first, I was offered very limited hope so I desperately sought a second opinion. I met with a young oncologist who was a big believer in cancer research. He suggested I try a chemo regime called MACOP-B that was very new at the time. It gave immediate results and I went through further treatment which included radiation and an autologous bone marrow transplant.

Amber and Jade were a huge part of my recovery – they were my life force

Twenty-nine years after I was first diagnosed with cancer, I can look back and count my blessings.

I recall there were times when frightening thoughts would cross my mind. In the wake of such a grim cancer diagnosis and treatment, I worried that I would miss my daughters’ precious childhood moments, and that I would never get to walk them down the aisle. Through the toughest times, the thought of another man stepping in to take my place as their father if I wasn’t around, was always a reliable motivator!

Six months later, my treatment was officially over. Shortly after I was told I had a high chance of leukaemia due to the high doses of chemo, and for the first few years I lived in the shadow of a relapse.

There has always been a 5cm mass present in my stomach, which is likely to be just scar tissue. I think of it as my talisman – it’s there to remind me to value each day, and keep me balanced in my approach to life and business. I am thankful that the only side effect of the innovative treatment was that my hair never grew back after the chemo. At least I didn’t have to go grey and I saved on shampoo!

I have been given this time to raise Jade and Amber, and their little sister Ava. Every day that I get to watch them fly is a miracle to me. I know that I am one of the truly lucky ones. Stories like mine are often too few and far between.

Everyday men are lost to cancer, and many others must live with the debilitating effects of painful treatment

This is why it is so important to continue to support cancer research into improved ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer.

When Jade told me she was taking action to support the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, I was so proud of her. I was thankful to be at her side as she shaved her head. A flood of memories poured in and I took the opportunity to phone and thank the doctor who helped me all those years ago.

ACRF supporters like you make life-saving discoveries possible. I know this because cancer research saved my life, and it will continue to save others, now and in the future.

Since my diagnosis, I have been in awe of all those new, more targeted treatments that provide better outcomes for all types of cancer.

And, there is still so much more we can do.

Cancer is smart, but when we join together, we are smarter

Each day I marvel at my extraordinary good fortune to have survived. When you donate to ACRF, you give more Australian men like me a better chance at survival.

Please make a donation this Men’s Cancer Month as an investment in the health of those you hold dear. Families like mine can’t thank you enough for your support of cancer research.”

Sincerely, Roland
Jade’s dad, cancer survivor and ACRF supporter

 

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Team behind new cancer treatment wins Clunies Ross Award

A team of cancer researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) has been recognised for their role in the development of a new anti-cancer medicine. The team received the 2018 Clunies Ross Knowledge Commercialisation Award from the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).

Professors David Huang and Andrew Roberts and Associate Professors Peter Czabotar, Guillaume Lessene received the award for their roles in the development of the anti-cancer agent venetoclax, which involved a collaboration with the companies Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and AbbVie.

Venetoclax (marketed as VENCLEXTA® and VENCLYXTO®) is a medicine that is now approved for clinical use in Australia, North America and Europe for the treatment of people with certain advanced forms of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). CLL the most common type of leukaemia diagnosed in Australia.

Translating research discoveries to a treatment

The development of venetoclax has its foundation in a research discovery at the Institute in the 1980s, that a protein called BCL-2 can make cancer cells immortal by preventing a form of programmed cell death called apoptosis.

Professor David Huang, whose research has investigated cell death since the 1990s, said the team had a long-term goal of developing a new anti-cancer treatment that killed cancer cells by inhibiting BCL-2.

“Venetoclax was the first drug of this kind to be approved for regular use in the clinic,” he said.

“It has been thrilling to work with our team and our industry partners to see the translation of our laboratory research to clinical benefit. We are honoured to receive the Clunies Ross Award from ATSE.”

Clinical trials of venetoclax demonstrated its benefit as a treatment for people with certain forms of CLL who had no other treatment options, said Professor Andrew Roberts, who is the Head of Clinical Translation at WEHI, a clinical haematologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Peter Mac, and also holds theMetcalf Chair of Leukaemia Research at the University of Melbourne and Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

“It was exciting and rewarding to be part of the journey that saw a fundamental research discovery developed to benefit patients,” Professor Roberts said.

“The initial clinical trials of venetoclax took place at sites including the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Peter Mac, which meant that Australian patients were the first in the world to benefit from Australian innovation.”

The power of collaboration

The research fields of structural biology and medicinal chemistry were crucial for the development of venetoclax. Associate Professor Peter Czabotar led research that revealed three-dimensional structures of target proteins. These provided ‘blue-prints’ for developing venetoclax through the team’s collaboration with AbbVie and Genentech.

“Our research benefited from the depth of structural biology expertise in the Institute, and from our access to the Australian Synchrotron,” Associate Professor Czabotar said.

“By visualising detailed structures of BCL-2 family proteins, we could see how medicines could be developed that were highly specific for BCL-2.”

The early work to develop drug-like molecules that specifically blocked BCL-2 family proteins was led by Associate Professor Guillaume Lessene.

“These proteins presented technical challenges that needed to be overcome in our quest for inhibitory molecules,” Associate Professor Lessene said.

“The depth of expertise in medicinal chemistry at the Institute was critical for the project to reach the point at which we could secure industry collaborations to progress the research further.”

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute director Professor Doug Hilton AO said the story of venetoclax was an important example of Australian science having a global impact.

“Venetoclax is a great demonstration of the power of collaboration,” he said. “David, Andrew, Peter and Guillaume led the team that brought together skills in cancer research, structural biology, medicinal chemistry and clinical translation that, when combined with the strengths of our commercial partners AbbVie and Genentech, enabled us to see a laboratory discovery translated into a new medicine.”

“I hope the recognition the Clunies Ross Knowledge Commercialisation Award provides to this team will inspire other Australian researchers to pursue similar journeys.”

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute acknowledges the contributions of its funding partners to its cell death research, including the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, the Australian Government, Cancer Council Victoria, the Leukaemia Foundation of Australia, the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Victorian Government.

This story was originally posted on the WEHI website.

ACRF has supported WEHI Institute by providing three grants, totalling AUD 5.5 million towards cutting-edge cancer research equipment and technology.

The strength of a mother’s love: Tax time campaign 2018

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“You always knew exactly where my mum was. Before you even saw her – you heard her big, infectious laugh. It was her trademark.

Last year, I watched helplessly as cancer took her away from us. Within weeks of her liver cancer diagnosis, she was gone.

Losing her has been the single most devastating event that I have ever experienced. I couldn’t stand by and let cancer continue to affect our loved ones in such a cruel way.

Remembering my mother lost to cancer

My mum saw the good in people and gave her love freely and openly, and that has left a lasting impression upon all who knew her.

No matter who you were, my mum was always there with a heartfelt smile and her unique way of making the worries of your day disappear.

She had so much zest for life, and it makes me so proud to know that’s how she is remembered, warm and bright.

I was fortunate to have known my mum very well. I’m an only child, and throughout my 39 years, I shared a wonderful relationship with both of my parents. The three of us supported each other through everything. My parents sacrificed so much for me, especially Mum, who was undoubtedly the most selfless person you would ever meet.

As a reminder of my mother’s legacy of happiness, joy and love I had the soundwave of her trademark laugh tattooed on my inner bicep to represent strength. It is my first and only tattoo and is my way of keeping her close to my heart, and under my wing.

How Scott supported cancer research

Soon after Mum passed away, I decided to take action to help Australian researchers find better ways to prevent, detect and treat all cancers. I’m determined to do everything I can, to stop others from feeling the unbearable pain and heartache caused by cancer.

My mum loved me like no other, but she wasn’t that keen on my long beard – she said it hid my face. I decided that I would shave it off for cancer research. With the help of my friends and family we raised over $12,000.

I was blown away by the result – it showed me that, “a snowflake is frail, but if enough of them stick together, they can stop traffic”.

To honour my mum, I hope that I can help others live a long and fulfilling life. Cancer affects us all but I know that together we will outsmart it.”
– Scott, ACRF supporter

Make a tax-deductible donation to ACRF and help fund ground-breaking cancer research

A tax deductible donation to ACRF will help us achieve our mission of outsmarting cancer by providing world-class scientists with the equipment they need to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all types of cancer.

Learn more about how tax deductible donations work and how they can boost your tax return here.

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Prostate cancer patients to benefit from targeted radiation delivery

Some men with aggressive prostate cancer will benefit from targeted radiation therapy. The new therapy, utilising radioactive material sourced from Australia’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, has produced dramatic responses in some men with aggressive prostate cancer and who have failed current therapies.

The treatment, LuPSMA (Lutetium-177 PSMA-617), involves a radioactive molecule that is purpose made to bind to prostate cancer cells, enabling the targeted delivery of radiation to kill these tumours.

LuPSMA was also seen to reduce bone pain and improve quality of life in the proof-of-concept clinical trial which involved 30 patients – a world-first on this scale. Results of the Peter Mac-sponsored Phase II, single-arm study have been published online by Lancet Oncology.

Professor Michael Hofman, who led the trial at Peter Mac, said the responses were remarkable and supported starting a larger, randomised and multi-site trial of LuPSMA.

“Our small proof-of-concept trial shows that LuPSMA is highly active in men with aggressive prostate cancers, and it can trigger striking responses in some men,” said Prof Hofman.

“That LuPSMA was able to achieve this in men who have exhausted conventional treatment options is remarkable, and we now look forward with great interest and optimism to results of our Australia-wide TheraP trial now underway.”

The TheraP trial (ANZUP 1603) – which commenced once the positive results of Peter Mac’s proof-of-concept trial were known – is a partnership between ANZUP Cancer Trials Group Limited (ANZUP) and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA).

The primary goal of Peter Mac’s proof-of-concept trial was whether LuPSMA could reduce PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) levels by more than 50%. PSA is a blood biomarker for prostate cancer, so lowering PSA levels in men with advanced disease indicates a reduction in cancer activity.

After LuPSMA, all but one of the men saw a decline in PSA levels. More than half (57%, 17 of 30) showed at least a halving of their PSA levels – meeting the goal. Notably, in six of the men (20%) exceptional responses were seen with PSA levels becoming close to undetectable. Full body scans also confirmed dramatic changes in men before and after receiving LuPSMA (see below).

“Some men also reported LuPSMA gave them rapid relief from otherwise severe bone pain and they had more energy for daily tasks and to enjoy their family time,” Prof Hofman said, noting the treatment was well tolerated with no immediate adverse effects and no treatment-related deaths.

LuPSMA is a personalised treatment using a concept called “theranostics”. This combines a diagnostic test and targeted therapy. First patients undergo a PSMA PET scan to see if the tumours “light up” reflecting adequate expression of the target. Only if suitable do they proceed with treatment. Peter Mac has a long history of expertise in theranostic therapies which enabled the team to perform this world-first study.

Recruitment for the larger ANZUP/PCFA TheraP trial (ANZUP 1603) is underway with trial sites now open in Victoria, NSW and Queensland and soon to open in WA and SA.

ANZUP Chair, Professor Ian Davis, says ANZUP was delighted to work with Prof Hofman to launch this important study in partnership with PCFA and: “Clinical trials like this are the only way we can find out how well new treatments work, whether they are safe, and whether they should become the new gold standard for treatment in the future.”

The news was first published on the Peter Mac Website. Image courtesy of Peter Mac, from left to right: Shaun Jenkinson (ANSTO), AProf Anthony Lowe (PCFA), AProf Michael Hofman (Study Chair) and Marg McJannett (ANZUP) at the Lucas Heights reactor.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre by providing four grants, totalling AUD $7million, towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

Two clinical trials demonstrate effectiveness of venetoclax

Venetoclax, a breakthrough cancer treatment, is driving a major shift in the management of a range of blood cancers, with two new clinical trials of chemotherapy-free combinations demonstrating dramatic benefits for patients with hard-to-treat leukaemia and lymphomas.

Results of two new venetoclax trials – the MURANO Study involving patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) and AIM Study in Mantle-Cell Lymphoma (MCL) – were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Both trials, involving patients whose blood cancer had relapsed or was resistant to conventional treatment, used venetoclax in combination with another targeted drug. These treatment combinations resulted in high rates of patients with no detectable cancer.

“That venetoclax is able to produce such dramatic results in this hard-to-treat patient group is remarkable, and has led to much excitement among blood cancer clinicians globally and the research community particularly in Melbourne where this drug was pioneered,” said Professor John Seymour, Director of Haematology at Peter Mac and RMH.

“The data shows venetoclax should replace chemotherapy altogether in patients with advanced forms of CLL – a practice-changing result which will rapidly translate into the standard of care globally.”

The MURANO study, led by Prof Seymour, involved 389 patients across 109 international trial sites and compared venetoclax plus rituximab to standard immuno-chemotherapy (bendamustine plus rituximab).

Venetoclax treatment was found to more than double the likelihood that CLL patients would live for two years without their cancer recurring (84.9% vs 36.3%), and the proportion of patients who had very few or no detectable leukemia cells in their blood was 83.5%, compared with 23.1% of patients who received standard immune-chemotherapy treatment.

The AIM study, led by Peter Mac’s A/Professor Constantine Tam and trialled at both Peter Mac and RMH, involved 24 patients with MCL. They were treated with venetoclax plus ibrutinib – two drugs expected to have an improved synergistic effect. This was the first ever trial of this scientifically-designed chemotherapy-free combination. Most (71%) patients went on to show no detectable cancer, and 78% of these patients remained cancer free for at least 15 months.

“This was in patients who we expected to have a poor outcome on conventional therapy, and in which treatment with either ibrutinib or venetoclax alone was expected to see only 21% of patients show a complete response,” said A/Prof Tam.

“These very promising results have triggered additional and larger studies to better understand the synergistic benefits of the venetoclax-ibrutinib treatment combination in MCL patients.”
CLL is the most common form of leukaemia in Australia, with around 1000 people diagnosed with the cancer every year. MCL is an uncommon sub-type of lymphoma which is considered incurable in most patients with conventional chemotherapy treatments.

“The development of venetoclax – from basic science through to international clinical trials with practice-changing results – provides a strong example of how Australian cancer researchers and clinicians can lead the world,” said Professor Andrew Roberts, a clinical haematologist at RMH and Peter Mac, researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and University of Melbourne, and co-designer of the AIM study.

“Venetoclax selectively targets BCL-2, essentially causing cancerous cells to simply melt away, in many instances.”
The rapidity of this “melting away” can also be problematic for patients leading to the side-effect of tumour lysis syndrome. This affected six patients in the MURANO Study and two in the AIM Study, but was managed safely in all cases.

Venetoclax is a targeted drug in tablet form that was developed based on scientific discoveries made at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. Thanks to the generosity of ACRF supporters, ACRF contributed significantly to the success of the early phases of research into venotoclax.

This news was first posted on the Peter Mac website. Image of Professor Seymour provided by Peter Mac.

Cancer killing clue could lead to safer and more powerful immunotherapies

cancer research scientist
Dr Misty Jenkins from WEHI Institute.

 

New research could help to safely adapt a new immunotherapy – currently only effective in blood cancers – for the treatment of solid cancers, such as notoriously hard-to-treat brain tumours.

The study, led by Dr Misty Jenkins from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, explains the crucial mechanisms by which CAR-T cell therapy is able to rapidly target and kill cancer cells, and why it may cause serious side effects.

CAR-T cell therapy is an innovative form of immunotherapy that uses synthetically engineered T cells to redirect the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017, it has been successfully used to treat blood cancers such as childhood leukaemia and some lymphomas.

Unfortunately, CAR-T cell therapy has had mixed results in solid cancers, often causing significant side effects such as ‘cytokine storms’ – a potentially fatal inflammatory response that can lead to organ failure in some patients.

Dr Jenkins led the study, working with collaborators Mr Alex Davenport, Associate Professor Phillip Darcy and Associate Professor Paul Neeson from the Peter Mac. It was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr Jenkins said the new research revealed for the first time how CAR-T cells interacted with cancer cells.

“We found that CAR-T cell receptors have the ability to rapidly identify and bind to tumour cells that would otherwise remain undetected in the immune system, and promptly kill them.

“We have previously shown a correlation between cytokine production and the length of time the immune cells were latched onto the cancer cells. The longer the cells were in contact, the more cytokines were produced, causing ever increasing degrees of damage from inflammation,” she said.

Dr Jenkins said a deep understanding of the biological factors contributing to the success and side effects of CAR-T cells would help to inform a better design and safer delivery methods for the personalised therapy.

“Our research is teaching us how to make CAR-T cells even more efficient, and without the toxic side effects, so that we can safely extend the therapy to cover a broader range of cancers,” she said.

Dr Jenkins said her research focused on how CAR-T cell therapy could successfully be used to treat brain cancer. Brain cancer has some of the poorest survival rates of any cancer in the world and desperately requires new treatment approaches.

“The brain is an incredibly delicate and challenging environment to work within,” Dr Jenkins said.

“Brain tumours are often resistant to traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy; and surgically removing tumours can come with a lot of collateral damage.

“Finding an optimum design for CAR-T cell therapy where we can kill tumour cells with limited invasion, inflammation and side effects could significantly improve the treatment of brain cancer.

“Answering fundamental biological questions about how immune cells and cancer cells function and interact, as we have done in this study, is invaluable in the quest to find formidable treatments for fatal cancers,” she said.

In 2017 Dr Jenkins received a Carrie’s Beanies 4 Brain Cancer Foundation grant and a Financial Market’s Foundation for Children Grant to continue her work to develop CAR-T cell therapies and other forms of immunotherapy for treating children with brain cancer.

The PNAS study was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Fight Cancer Foundation and the Victorian Government.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation has proudly supported Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research since 2001 in their cancer research efforts, providing a total of $5.5 million to date.

This research article was originally published on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Can our genes help predict how women respond to ovarian cancer treatment?

Ovarian cancerNew research has shown that the genes we inherit can have a significant impact on how the body processes chemotherapy drugs, which may lead to different clinical outcomes for ovarian cancer patients.

Research has identified gene variants that play a significant role in how women with ovarian cancer process chemotherapy.

The research showed that the genes we inherit can have a significant impact on how the body processes chemotherapy drugs, which may lead to different clinical outcomes for ovarian cancer patients.

Lead researcher, Professor Anna deFazio from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research and Westmead Hospital, said this discovery may help doctors predict which patients will respond positively to chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy and surgery are the standard treatment for women with ovarian cancer, but each patient responds differently.

“We wanted to know why some women respond very positively to treatment, while others suffer serious side effects, and some have a poor response,” Professor deFazio said.

“We set out to understand which genetic factors influence how a patient processes chemotherapy.

“Our research showed that a gene called ABCC2 plays a critical role in eliminating chemotherapy from the body,” she explained.

ABCC2 is a drug transporter, which means it pumps a variety of different substances out of cells.

“We found that variants of this gene are associated with high rates of drug elimination, which means they pump chemotherapy drugs out of the body quickly and may cause the treatment to be less effective.

“This may explain why chemotherapy is an effective treatment for some women, but not for others,” she said.

Professor deFazio said these latest research findings are an important step towards delivering better outcomes for patients.

“Now that we are beginning to understand the role of the ABCC2 gene, and other novel gene variants that were identified in this research, we can work towards developing personalised cancer treatment for patients,” Professor deFazio concluded.

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynaecological cancer and ranks as the sixth most common cause of cancer-related death in women in the Western world.

Professor Anna deFazio, and Associate Professor Stuart Macgregor and Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute led this research and it was part of a PhD project undertaken by Dr Bo Gao, now a Medical Oncologist at Westmead and Blacktown Hospitals.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation is a proud supporter of Westmead Institute and has provided them with $7 million towards their cancer research efforts.

This article was originally published on the Westmead Institute website.

The full paper is available online at Nature Scientific Reports.

Researchers build tiny DNA nanorobots to block cancer growth

Cancer research scientist
Professor Greg Anderson. Image supplied by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

 

Scientists have successfully designed tiny nanorobots made of DNA and protein that can be targeted directly at tumours to stop them from growing.

The study was led by researchers at the National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences and involved Professor Greg Anderson, head of the Chronic Disorders Research Program at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

It has been published in Nature Biotechnology today.

Professor Anderson said the nanorobots were made using a technique called “DNA origami”, where specially constructed sheets of DNA were folded up and bound together to form a tube-like structure.

He said the group embedded the blood-clotting agent thrombin within the nanorobots.

“Thrombin is a naturally-occurring protein that causes blood clots to form,” Professor Anderson said.

“This ability can be harnessed to kill tumour cells by developing a system where the thrombin only causes clots in the blood vessels that are feeding the tumour, and not elsewhere in the body.

“When that happens, the tumour cells no longer receive essential nutrients and they die.”

Professor Anderson said the nanorobots were designed so that thrombin was released only after it was “unlocked” by a particular protein found within the blood vessels of tumours.

“The nanorobot keeps the clotting agent disguised until it reaches the place where we want it to act. In this case, that’s the tumour,” he said.

“That’s why this is such a clever delivery method.”

Professor Anderson said it was a highly-innovative example of nanotechnology being used to target tumours.

“This approach is novel in the way the team has combined a number of existing but different elements of nanotechnology to enable the controlled and targeted delivery of the blood-clotting agent,” he said.

“It shows just what is possible with contemporary biomedical technology and hints at what may be the future of intelligent drug delivery.

“Methods like this could potentially be used to deliver a wide range of drugs, and even multiple drugs at once.

“There are really limitless combinations of technologies and drugs that could be tried.

“The applications of the technology are certainly not restricted to tumour development, either.”

The targeted nanorobots also proved highly effective at reducing the growth and spread of tumours with characteristics of breast cancer and melanoma in mice.

Professor Anderson said although the treatment was successful in laboratory tests, it was still some time before the strategy would be tested in humans.

“It is an extremely exciting first step, but more work needs to be done,” he said.

“The term ‘cancer’ covers a broad range of diseases and different types of cancer require different treatments, or combination of treatments.

“Nevertheless, the use of the DNA origami approach potentially provides a new tool that could be used to help achieve the ultimate goal of eradicating primary tumours and their metastases.”

Australian Cancer Research Foundation has proudly supported QIMR Medical Research Institute since 2002 and has provided a total of $8.4m towards their cancer research efforts.

This article was originally published on the QIMR website.

Four ways precision medicine is making a difference

All human characteristics are profoundly influenced by genetic factors, including susceptibility to infectious and complex diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer. Until now it has been virtually impossible to target medicine to a specific individual’s genetic makeup, and medicine has been aimed at the average.

But now “precision medicine” is allowing us to analyse a person’s genetic makeup and target treatments based on their specific needs. A report released this week by the Australian Council of Learned Academies, The Future of Precision Medicine in Australia, notes the cost of sequencing individual genomes has plummeted from more than US$1 billion to US$1,000 over the past 15 years, and continues to fall.

Here are four areas in which precision medicine is making a difference in health care, and some of the ways we hope it will improve health care in the future.

1. Diagnosing and preventing genetic disease

The precision medicine revolution is transforming the diagnosis and prevention of genetic disease. Tragically, at least 2% of all children are afflicted by a severe developmental or intellectual disability, which can result from damage to any one of thousands of genes that encode the proteins we need to function.

Genome sequencing can now identify 40-60% of the affected genes, giving parents and doctors the answers they need to improve treatment.

This information also improves the confidence of parents to have more children, as the problem can be avoided by IVF. For these reasons, the UK National Health Service has recently announced genome sequencing will be used to determine the cause in cases of severe unexplained disability. Hopefully Australia will soon follow suit.

This is just the beginning. The use of genome sequencing for preconception screening of prospective parents is just around the corner, and has the potential to reduce the incidence of genetic disability in our community.


2. Cancer diagnosis and treatment

Cancer is caused by a wide range of cell mutations, but traditional tests do not make clear which of these is driving a particular cancer.

Identification of these mutations has led to the development of effective drugs such as Imatinib, with many more in late stage development. But these are expensive and can be applied only if the precise target is known.

Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and France are trialling sequencing the cancer’s DNA in order to better target treatment. Unpublished, emerging evidence indicates a substantial improvement in survival, but surprisingly, an overall reduction in costs. This appears to be due to fewer episodes of patients requiring acute care.

Some of the outcomes of genomically-informed cancer treatment are spectacular. I am aware of two children locally with lethal cancers, one of whom was close to death, who have been apparently cured as a result of prescribing the correct drug (which had never before been indicated in the cancers concerned) following genome analysis.

We can also increasingly predict an individual’s risk of getting cancer by analysing genes known to be involved in cancer. A recent study using MRIs of people judged at high risk of cancer because of an inherited mutation in a cancer-causing gene showed 10% already had tumours that weren’t yet causing symptoms. These could then be readily removed.

3. The suitability of medicines

A high proportion of hospital admissions in Australia and other countries are due to toxic reactions to prescribed medications. And many medications are useless in some people.

The main reason for this is we have different forms of the liver enzymes that clear chemicals from our bloodstream, which in turn affects their concentration and how long they last. By necessity, prescriptions are directed at the average.

There are also rare gene mutations that make some medications lethal for some people. Genome analysis can predict and avoid many of these adverse reactions or unproductive prescriptions, saving enormous amounts of money and making medication more personal and precise.

4. Population health data

Given the benefits of genome sequencing for individual health, it’s assumed most people will consent, and have the results incorporated into their personal medical records. Amalgamation of this information with clinical records will provide rich data that can be mined for biomedical discovery, as well as for better management of medical systems and resource allocation.

Personal wearable and implantable devices that can monitor physiological responses (sleep, blood sugar, blood pressure, medication compliance, etc.) will contribute the other half of the personal picture by providing real-time information to assist diagnosis, helping people find the best strategies for improving their health.

The ConversationMedicine will become one of the most data-intensive industries on the planet, changing from the art of crisis management to the science of good health. This will have a transformative effect on health, both individually and systemically, with enormous implications for national economies.

John Stanley Mattick, Executive Director, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Garvan Institute

Australian Cancer Research Foundation has provided Garvan Institute with $6.1 million towards world-class cancer research projects.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Carrie’s birthday bash fundraiser

Charity fundraising eventMy recent 40th birthday celebration with 100 nearest and dearest friends and family was held in memory of my loved friend Anna. On the night, we raised just over $7,000 for ACRF by participating in the Birthday Donations In lieu of Gifts program.

Never comfortable being the centre of attention, I had no intention of having a birthday party. Turning 40 is something of a milestone birthday but all I had in mind was dinner out with my mother, husband and our three young children. Then Anna lost her battle with bladder cancer, suddenly and unexpectedly, which of course had a profound effect on her family, my family, and our mutual friends. So I decided to throw a party to both celebrate life and fundraise in Anna’s memory. I wanted to make a difference, however big or small, to cancer research and awareness. Anna would have loved the big party idea because she had been thinking of ways to help raise bladder cancer awareness when she was going through treatment. Anna didn’t have her chance at raising funds for cancer research but I could do it for her.

The list of my friends and family who have either been affected by cancer or lost their battle to cancer goes on and on. Closest to home was my dad who died of bladder cancer when he was only 56 years old. Losing dad was, without a doubt, the worst day for my mum, my younger brother and me. All of us still miss Dad so much and not a day goes by without thinking of him. He was a wonderful father and husband and an inspiration to us. I am so sorry that he can’t be here with us today.

It is hugely important to me to support the work of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation because my mother has had a few run-ins with breast cancer over the years. If it wasn’t for the research, I doubt that Mum would still be with us today; she has now beaten the cancer twice. Mum is an amazing and strong woman and I’m very proud of her. Both my mother and father are the type of parents any kid would dream of, and I have been so fortunate to have them in my life.

I genuinely hope that raising money can help save the lives of others affected by cancer, and ensure that other young families will live a full life together. I was comfortable asking for donations rather than gifts for my birthday, and it certainly helped that ACRF is a genuine foundation with a long history of funding ground-breaking cancer research. It was also easier for me to push people to “dig deep” knowing that all of the money donated is tax deductible. I would encourage anyone thinking about fundraising to just go ahead and get started. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive, and every dollar counts!

It was a great feeling on my birthday to receive such wonderfully generous support from friends and family. Knowing that we can somehow make a difference to ensuring that cancer research continues is the best gift.

 

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Brighid gets a buzz cut

Headshave eventMy aunt passed away a few years ago to cancer and that really opened my eyes to the struggle that cancer patients go through. Despite so many advances in diagnosis and treatment over the years, there is still not a lot of hope for a cure for some types of cancer. I decided to support cancer research because it is the only way to find those breakthroughs that will end all cancers.

I am nearly 16 now, in grade 10 at high school, love playing volleyball with the Dragons, and spending time with my friends. When looking at ways to raise money, I decided on getting a buzz cut. It was a simple way to fundraise, and I really liked that my hair would be donated to make a wig for a child going through cancer treatment.

Choosing which is the best cancer organisation to support can be confusing. I came across ACRF during an internet search, liked what they’re doing to fund research into all types of cancer, and found it very easy and efficient to create my own personal fundraising page on their website.

Thanks to my generous friends, family and with my own donation, it was awesome to exceed my goal of raising at least $2,000. I’d say to anyone who wants to fundraise to just reach out to as many people as you can, in every way that you can. Raising money and awareness for cancer research is something we can all support.

 

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Josh completes Honolulu marathon 2017

charity fun run

In December 2015, Joshua Toth, his wife Jane and son Charlie were overjoyed to welcome baby Luke into their family. However, at ten weeks old, Luke was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive Rhabdoid tumour. Despite the best efforts of a team of doctors and nurses at Westmead Children’s Hospital, Luke passed away at six months of age.

“Never in a million years did I think our family would experience what we have in the past two years. Not a day goes by that we don’t wish it was possible to see Luke again. Losing a child to cancer also has us constantly thinking of ways to ensure that no other family has to endure what we’ve been through. For the past two years, Jane and I have been drawn to organisations that dedicate their time, money and effort towards research that will hopefully lead to all forms of cancer becoming a curable disease in the near future. In 2016, our family and friends raised a reasonable amount of money for Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia.

I happened across the ACRF running fundraising site in January 2017 while doing some web searches on various organisations that support cancer research. I was inspired by ACRF’s mission to end cancer and one phone call to them was all it took for me to decide to fundraise for ACRF as part of my participation in Honolulu Marathon 2017. Taking on what is described as 26.2 miles in paradise was going to be challenging as my only other distance running experience had been a 10km run in Homebush almost ten years ago. Although I would be 40 by the time the Honolulu marathon got underway in December, it seemed like do it now or never, in my head anyway. Joining in the race with me was my younger brother Brad who has been through a similarly tragic time when his son passed away very soon after birth. We gave the run everything we had on the day and finished within a few minutes of each other in our respective age groups.

It is estimated that over 134,000 Australians will be diagnosed in 2018 with some form of cancer and one out of every two people will be directed affected by cancer. We have made so much progress against other diseases, it’s hard to believe there is still no cure for this insidious disease, especially childhood cancer. I am grateful there are organisations like ACRF that dedicate themselves to cancer research, and thankful that I can contribute to raising awareness and facilitating that research.”

 

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New HPV vaccine boosts teens’ protection from HPV and cervical cancer

As 12 and 13-year-old boys and girls start a new school year, they will have access to the new, improved vaccine to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer in women.

While the previous Gardasil vaccine protected against 70% of cervical cancers, the updated Gardasil 9 version will protect against up to 93% of these. And compared to the three doses required with the previous regimen, only two are needed now.

In Australia, around 900 new cases are diagnosed and around 250 women die from the disease each year. But cervical cancer rates have halved in the past 30 years due to the high quality national Pap cytology screening program.

Prevention against cervical cancer is the main aim of the Gardasil 9 vaccine. But HPV is also linked to a large proportion of anal, vaginal and head and neck cancers, and the vaccine offers protection for these too.


What is HPV?

Genital HPV is a common group of viruses, mainly transmitted through sexual contact, including contact of genital skin to genital skin. Most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity and most clear the infection on their own.

But for a small number of those infected, the HPV becomes persistent. A proportion of these people will go on to develop abnormal cells that are the precursor to cervical cancer. HPV is the cause of nearly all cervical cancers. But the virus is also linked to 90% of anal cancers, 65% of vaginal cancers, 50% of vulva cancers and 35% of penile cancers and 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).

The Australian government was one of the first to introduce a free Gardasil vaccine to all female students aged 12 to 13 years in 2007 (with a catch up to the end of 2009 for those up to 26 years of age). This protected against four different strains of HPV. Two of those strains (HPV 16 and 18) cause about 70% of cervical cancers; the other two cause the majority of genital warts (HPV 6 and 11). 

Australia was also one of the first countries to adopt a school-based, gender-neutral vaccine program in 2013, by introducing free, ongoing vaccinations to young boys 12 to 13 years of age.

What does Gardasil 9 offer?

The new Gardasil 9 vaccine, available from this week, targets nine strains, seven of which cause around 93% of all cervical cancers (in addition to HPV 6/11 so protects against 90% of genital warts). It includes protection for the five next most common cancer-causing HPVs globally (HPV 31/33/45/52/58).

The new vaccine has been tested in global clinical trials involving more than 14,000 women in 18 countries, aged 16 to 26 years. They received either the new Gardasil 9 vaccine or the original Gardasil vaccine. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet, the study looked at the rate of pre-cancerous cell changes in women six years later.

It found the new vaccine was far more effective, targeting an extra five of the most common cancer-causing strains of HPV and potentially preventing 23% more cervical cancers. Thus infection with the new types was markedly reduced too. With a reduction in infection, there is a reduction in the diseases that the HPV can cause.

The common side effects with Gardasil 9 in the clinical trial were the same as with the older Gardasil vaccine. These were pain at the injection site, local swelling in the arm at the injection site and redness. There were no differences between the serious adverse events between the two vaccines.

Who should get the new vaccine?

Australia was one of the first countries to adopt an HPV vaccination program and has one of the highest coverage rates, with around 79% of girls and 73% of boys having received the Gardasil vaccine.

Those who have already had the original vaccine have excellent protection from HPV, so we are not recommending they should go back for the new vaccine.

The new vaccine is free to 12- to 13-year-olds as part of the National Immunisation Program. It’s also available at a cost to adults and has been shown effective in protecting against HPV in people up to the age of 45 years.

Those who have not been infected by the strains of HPV gain the most benefit from the vaccine. However, the vaccine boosts the immune response in sexually active individuals who have been infected previously with any of these HPV strains targeted by the vaccine, should they come into contact with the virus again.

Regular screening important

It’s important women continue to have regular screening to avoid abnormal cells developing into cervical cancer, even if they have had the vaccine. In December 2017, Australia’s screening program changed. The Pap test was replaced by a cervical swab testing for HPV DNA. This is a more sensitive test to detect underlying cellular abnormalities than the Pap test.

A five year study involving 5,000 women found the new HPV test was far more effective in detecting high grade pre-cancerous changes to the cervix compared to the traditional Pap test. It has the potential to prevent 30% more cervical cancers.

Women will now have their first test at age 25 instead of 18. After their first HPV test, women will be tested every five years instead of every two years. They will be tested up to age 74, and, in an important development, self-collection will be an option for some women who may have difficulty with a vaginal test.

We are already seeing the benefit of the original Gardasil vaccine on rates of HPV. With high coverage of the new Gardasil 9 vaccine, and adoption of the new HPV screening test it is predicted we will see a rapid decline in the cervical cancer rate in Australia in the coming years.


Suzanne Marie Garland, Professor, Melbourne University, The Royal Women’s Hospital

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thanks to the generous donations from our supporters, ACRF has been able to award grants to ground-breaking Australian cancer research projects such as the development of the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine. In 1999, we awarded a $1 million grant to Professor Ian Frazer and the Diamantina Institute in Queensland to support research into the development of the vaccine.

Melanoma is in the eye of the beholder

University of Queensland researchers have found that freckles and moles appearing on the iris indicate a high risk of melanoma, particularly in people under 40 years of age.

Dermatology Research Centre’s Associate Professor Rick Sturm said the presence of pigmented lesions was an effective predictor of the risk of melanoma that complemented traditional factors.

“We found the presence of three or more iris pigmented lesions was associated with a 45 percent increased risk of melanoma,” Dr Sturm said.

“This association was particularly strong in people under 40.

“The presence of iris freckling and naevi (moles), provides additional information about an individual’s melanoma risk over and above factors like blue eyes, red hair, fair skin and the number of moles on the skin.”

The study, involving Professor H. Peter Soyer and Dr Antonia Laino, involved 1117 participants of European background living in South-East Queensland.

Dr Laino said the results showed that participants with pigmented lesions were 1.45 times more likely to develop melanoma.

“This association was particularly strong in people under 40, suggesting a genetic susceptibility,” she said.

“It also suggests the potential use of these lesions as a marker for melanoma risk in younger patients (1.8 times more at risk).

“Melanoma is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 39.

“Despite many new advances in treatments, long term prognosis remains poor, therefore early detection is still key in reducing the burden of the disease.

“It’s very easy to look for iris pigmented lesions, and we hope that these findings will help doctors identify those people who may be at increased risk of melanoma and need a skin check.”

“These lesions should be used as markers for melanoma risk in younger patients.”

The UQ Diamantina Institute study is published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

ACRF has provided The University of Queensland with $19.2 million in funding for cancer research.

This article was originally published on The University of Queensland’s website.

Countrywide delivers for ACRF

Workplace giving

 

Countrywide Food Service Distributors, Australia’s largest group of independently owned wholesale distributors of goods to a variety of foodservice establishments and outlets, is no stranger to helping charities. Countrywide initially began to support a charity after one of its distributors introduced a silent auction at the company’s National Awards Night. Since that evening, Countrywide has established partnerships with numerous selected charities where they can work together on a longer-term basis.

Most recently, Countrywide was seeking a new charity partner for the 2017/2018 period. When developing a shortlist, they looked for: a charity that had national coverage so that each one of the Countrywide 115 distributors/members could get involved, a charity receiving little or no government assistance, and a charity which Countrywide distributors and suppliers could collectively engage with. As everyone has been touched by cancer in some way, Countrywide was confident that a cancer charity would be the best fit. Countrywide recognised ACRF’s uniqueness in their funding of research for all types of cancer and their mission to end cancer through providing equipment needed to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Michelle Wearing, Countrywide Marketing Manager said, “The funding that ACRF is able to provide for grants enables some amazing research to take place. When you hear about the positive results that have been achieved from those research projects and how those results are then implemented to improve patient well-being along with preventing cancer in the first place, it is incredibly exciting.”

Countrywide also values the positive impact that fundraising has on their staff. The company has already held a number of events to raise money for ACRF through staff donations. Those events included a multi-cultural lunch where enthusiastic staff members brought in a national dish to share. It was a lunchtime that celebrated the company’s diversity and enhanced its culture. In addition, Countrywide stakeholders are eager to get involved and support ACRF at the company’s next silent auction.

“Working with ACRF really fits with Countrywide’s Mission, Vision and Values and we look forward to raising more funds for ACRF to continue their great work in cancer research.”

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Image: Countrywide presented Australian Cancer Research Foundation with $90,000 in donations.

A new blood test can detect eight different cancers in their early stages

Researchers have developed a blood test that can detect the presence of eight common cancers. Called CancerSEEK, the blood test detects tiny amounts of DNA and proteins released into the blood stream from cancer cells. This can then indicate the presence of ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic, oesophageal, bowel, lung or breast cancers.

Known as a liquid biopsy, the test is distinctly different to a standard biopsy, where a needle is put into a solid tumour to confirm a cancer diagnosis. CancerSEEK, is also far less invasive. It can be performed without even knowing a cancer is present, and therefore allow for early diagnosis and more chance of a cure.


The test has been shown to reliably detect early stage and curable cancers. It has also been found to rarely be positive in people who don’t have cancer. This prevents significant anxiety and further invasive tests for those who don’t need them.

Several cancers can be screened for at once, and the test can be performed at the same time as routine blood tests, such as a cholesterol check. But the test is still some years away from being used in the clinic.

How the test works

Often long before causing any symptoms, even very small tumours will begin to release minute amounts of mutated DNA and abnormal proteins into blood. While DNA and proteins are also released from normal cells, the DNA and proteins from cancer cells are unique, containing multiple changes not present in normal cells.

The newly developed blood-based cancer DNA test is exquisitely sensitive, accurately detecting one mutated fragment of DNA among 10,000 normal DNA fragments, literally “finding the needle in the haystack”.

We used CancerSEEK in just over 1,000 people with different types of early stage cancers. It was shown to accurately detect the cancer, including in 70% or more of pancreas, ovary, liver, stomach and esophageal cancers. For each of these tumour types there are currently no screening tests available – blood based or otherwise.

Along with cancer detection, the blood test accurately predicted what type of cancer it was in 83% of cases.

Published in the journal Science, the research was led by a team from John Hopkins University, with collaboration from Australian scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

Why it’s important

Steady progress continues to be made in the treatment of advanced cancers, including major gains in life expectancy. But this can come at significant physical and financial cost. Early diagnosis remains the key to avoiding the potentially devastating impact of many cancer treatments and to reducing cancer deaths.

However, where there are proven screening tests that lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes, such as colonoscopy screening for bowel cancer, these are typically unpleasant. They also have associated risks, only screen for one cancer at a time and population uptake is often poor. And for many major tumour types there are currently no effective screening tests.


There are characteristic patterns of mutations and altered proteins that differ among cancer types. So CancerSEEK can not only detect that there is a cancer somewhere in the body but can also suggest where to start looking.

For example, if the pattern suggests a bowel cancer, then a colonoscopy is a logical next step. When blood samples were taken from over 800 apparently healthy controls, less than 1% scored a positive test. This means the test is rarely positive for people who don’t have cancer, thereby reducing the problem of overdiagnosis.

Overall, these results appear to be in stark contrast to previously developed blood-based tests for cancer screening. Currently the only widely used one of is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer. This has multiple limitations and some would argue the jury is still out on whether PSA based testing does more good than harm.


What next?

The ConversationLarge trials are now underway in the US, with CancerSEEK testing being offered to thousands of healthy people. Cancer incidence and outcomes in these people will be compared to a control group who do not have testing. Study results will be available in the next three to five years.

Peter Gibbs, Professor and Laboratory Head, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Australian Cancer Research Foundation supports The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and has provided their researchers with $5.5 million in funding towards cancer research.

 

Image: Peter Gibbs, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Breast cancer linked to chronic disease later in life

Women who receive hormonal therapy for breast cancer are at increased risk of developing chronic conditions later in life, according to new research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Researchers from Flinders University and the University of South Australia found that rates of depression, osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, chronic pain and gastric disorders were higher among breast cancer survivors who had received hormonal cancer treatment than among those without breast cancer.

Hormonal therapy, also known as endocrine therapy, is currently used to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence for 70% of breast cancers in Australia.

It is typically administered after surgery or a course of chemotherapy, and/or radiation.

“Knowing that hormonal therapy may predispose women to develop chronic illnesses gives us the chance to develop effective, long-term models of care for these patients,” says Flinders University Professor and co-researcher of the study, Bogda Koczwara.

“Developing the strategies and tools to manage co-existing chronic conditions after breast cancer should now be an essential part of every patient’s overall treatment plan.”

The study compared the health of two groups of women over a ten-year period, the first group comprising women who were receiving hormonal therapy for breast cancer and the second group comprising women of a similar age who did not have breast cancer.

The emergence of chronic disease and the frequency with which it developed was mapped in both groups.

“Our study clearly found that chronic illnesses developed more frequently in women with breast cancer than in those without breast cancer,” Professor Koczwara says.

“We also found that the risk for developing chronic illnesses among women with breast cancer was greatest during their first year of hormonal therapy.

“Some of this risk may be attributable to hormonal therapy, and some of it may be the effect of the cancer itself or its earlier treatment.

“Hormonal therapy is still a very important treatment option for women with hormone responsive cancer, but we need to manage its subsequent impact on long-term health in a more informed and impactful way,” says Professor Koczwara.

The study was the first of its kind in Australia to comprehensively examine the relationship between breast cancer treatment and the development of successive chronic disease using the analysis of prescribing patterns.

“The good news is that most women diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia can be cured and we now have a way of using routine data to monitor the risk of chronic disease after cancer,” Professor Koczwara says.

“The next step is to prevent these conditions from developing through healthy lifestyle habits, exercise, diet and other strategies.”

Professor Koczwara is supported by the National Breast Cancer Foundation and is located at the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer.

Her co-researchers on this study include Huah Shin Ng, David Roder, Theo Niyonsenga and Agnes Vitry from the University of South Australia.

The full findings of the study can now be read in the published paper: Ng HS, Koczwara B, Roder DM, Niyonsenga T and Vitry AI. ‘Comorbidities in Australian women with hormone-dependent breast cancer: a population-based analysis’, Medical Journal of Australia, 15 January 2018, vol. 208, no. 1, pp 24-28, doi: 10.5694/mja17.00006.

This article was originally published on the Flinders University website.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation has provided Flinders University with $1 million in funding towards cancer research.

Image: The Cardrona Bra Fence in Central Otago, New Zealand. Photo: Michael Whitney, Flickr Creative Commons.

Three charts on: brain cancer in Australia

While survival rates for most cancers continue to improve in Australia, brain cancers aren’t seeing the same success. Australians diagnosed with brain cancer had around a 25% chance of surviving for five years from 2009 to 2013. This was compared to a survival rate of 68% for all cancers combined in the same period.

Brain and central nervous system cancers (CNS) can be either malignant or benign, but unlike benign tumours in other tissues, all brain and CNS tumours are associated with significant sickness and death.

Survival rates

It is estimated that 2,076 new cases of brain and other CNS cancers will be diagnosed in Australia in 2017. Around 1,500 people will die from this disease.

While the survival rate is 25% for brain cancer in general, for certain brain cancers it’s much worse. For instance, glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer in adults, has a five year survival rate of 4.6%.

So why hasn’t there been an improvement in survival in the last 30 years for patients with brain tumours? A frequent problem is that it’s hard for drugs to actually get to the tumour. The brain has a unique defence, termed the “blood-brain barrier”, that limits the passage of drugs from the bloodstream into the brain.

 

Indeed, most chemotherapies are stopped from getting to the brain by the blood-brain barrier. Those that do, such as temozolomide used to treat brain tumours including glioblastoma, unfortunately have limited efficacy, and only improve survival by several months at best. There is clearly a desperate need to identify new drug targets and more effective therapies for brain tumour treatment.

Incidence rates

Incidence rates for brain and CNS cancers have stayed steady for some decades but the sickness and death that comes with the disease continues to affect many Australian lives. A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that the incidence of many cancers has increased over time.

In many cases this is due to our ageing population, as cancer is more common in older age. But other lifestyle factors also play a role. For example obesity, type two diabetes and alcohol consumption are three major risk factors for liver cancer, rates of which have increased.

The incidence of some other cancers has decreased though. In the case of lung cancer, this is likely due to a decrease in smoking. While the introduction of a vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV) (which is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer) would explain the drop in cervical cancer rates.

In comparison, the overall incidence of brain cancer has remained stable over the last 30 years, probably because there are no known lifestyle or environmental factors that contribute to these cancers. While we don’t know what causes brain and CNS tumours, there is evidence to suggest genetics and high levels of radiation may play a role.

Childhood brain cancer

While many cancers almost exclusively present in older people, this is not the case with brain tumours, as these kill more people under 40 than any other cancer.

Perhaps of most concern is that brain tumours disproportionately affect children, killing more children (aged 1-14 years old) in Australia than any other disease. They are only third to land transport accidents and congenital and associated abnormalities as causes of child death in Australia.

The prognosis for children with brain cancers, the most common being medulloblastoma, is much better than in adults though. Around 70% of these patients will have curable disease.

But, undergoing life-saving treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation comes at a long-term cost for these children, as these therapies themselves are associated with detrimental effects on childhood development. These can potentially result in neurological defects, learning difficulties, growth abnormalities and mental health issues.


The ConversationThe Australian government recently announced a A$100 million dollar medical research fund committed to doubling the survival rates and improving the quality of life of patients with brain cancer over the next ten years. It is hoped with this substantial investment, progress will be made to eventually defeat brain cancer.

Melinda Tea, Research Associate, Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia and Stuart Pitson, NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tony turns on the Christmas lights again for ACRF

Christmas charity fundraising

Prior to settling in Australia, Christmas for our family in the UK was always celebrated in cold and wintery weather. Decorating our house in Lake Macquarie with outdoor lights really began as a way to feel more festive in a warm climate. We started 12 years ago and, over time, it has developed into quite a hobby. My wife and I have three adult sons and ever since our eldest, Adrian, joined in with the decorating, each year’s display has become bigger and better.

This Christmas will be the second year that we’ve raised money for ACRF with donations from anyone who comes to see our lights. When both my wife and I first decided to support a cancer organisation, and after doing some research on the internet, we quickly agreed that ACRF was the one for us. We liked what they were accomplishing. Most people have a family member or friend or acquaintance who has faced cancer. A lot has been done through research to advance treatments, but there is still a long way to go to eradicate or minimise cancer and its devastating effects. My mother died of liver cancer and my family is predisposed to developing bowel cancer so I am acutely aware of what might happen to us in the future.

Setting up each year’s Christmas display does take time, a lot of time. I’m a civil engineer by profession, so you can imagine the amount of planning and structuring that goes into the entire process. It has taken 186 hours this year to set up, working most Saturdays and Sundays in November. As the front lawn is used for six weeks with part of the display and the grass has to be kept short, half-way through we remove all the lights, mow the lawn and then set up again. It takes four hours to accomplish that 15 minutes of mowing!

The complexity of the display has evolved over the years. Five years ago, we started to include computer controlled lights that flash on and off in time with music. More recently, we introduced special RGB lights so we can change every bulb to any colour we like, and then my sons presented me with a snow machine which we use on weekends during the display. The kids love it! This year’s innovation is projections of Santa in the windows waving and getting presents ready. Once the Christmas season is finished, we spend many more hours taking down the display, cleaning and testing all the lights and then carefully packing everything away. We usually don’t complete the task until early February.

In 2017 we had a good-sized flow of people who viewed the lights and who also made a donation. We successfully raised $2,800 for ACRF, and we want to match or exceed that amount this year. The reality is that cancer can affect anyone at any time so everyone should try to do their bit to help. So please come by, see the lights and help support cancer research.

 

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Study reveals a role for micro-RNAS in cancer cell survival

A collaboration between the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Peter Mac has shed light on how cancer cells can precisely control their behaviour through the action of tiny micro-RNAs. They found these small molecules can make a very big impact on whether a cancer cell lives or dies.

Published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, the study led by Dr Iva Nikolic at Peter Mac and A/Prof Alex Swarbrick at the Garvan has identified which micro-RNAs (miRNAs) are important in determining whether a cancer cell survives.

miRNAs are small strands of genetic material that have the power to control what signals get turned on and off inside a cell. Through this activity miRNAs can control how a cancer cell behaves, from how they divide to how they spread through the body, and even how they respond to treatments.

There are thousands of different miRNAs in every cell, but until now it has been difficult to assess which of these are important in cancer.

“Most other studies into miRNAs in cancer have looked simply at how many miRNA molecules are in a cell, but not at what they are doing,” says the study’s lead author, Dr Iva Nikolic, senior postdoctoral research fellow at the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics (VCFG) at Peter Mac.

Dr Nikolic, who was at the time a visiting scientist at Peter Mac from A/Prof Alex Swarbrick’s laboratory at the Garvan, conducted her research largely within the VCFG using high-throughput technologies headed by A/Prof Kaylene Simpson.

“In our study we used techniques that allowed us to either mimic or stop the action of individual miRNAs inside cancer cells and looked to see whether the cells survived or died,” explains Dr Nikolic.

miRNAs are powerful molecules inside a cell with the ability to regulate the expression of not just one, but many different downstream genes.

“By targeting single miRNAs we were able to study the function of whole gene networks and determine their importance in cancer cell function.”

Another unique feature of the study was its assessment of many different cell lines representing diverse cancer types, allowing scientists to draw closer connections between gene expression and cell behaviours that has not been possible in smaller studies.

“We studied the action of each miRNA in the contexts of different cancer types and found quite big differences. For example, miRNAs in breast cancer cells act in different ways to miRNAs in prostate or brain cancer cells.”

“Therefore, miRNA-dependent regulation of cancer is likely determined by the cell type from which the cancer was originally derived. This will help us think about better treatments tailored for cancer type,” says Dr Nikolic.

The study authors also developed a web-based portal that will help cancer researchers from all over the world predict direct targets of individual miRNAs within cancer cells. This may aid the identification of new targets for anti-cancer therapies.

“It was an important aim of the study to create a resource for other scientists to be able to learn from our research. We hope this will help to find new insights into how cancers work and drive new discoveries.”

ACRF has provided $7 million in cancer research funding to Peter Mac and $6.1 million to Garvin Institute.

This article was originally published on the Peter Mac website.

Image: Dr Iva Nikolic and a research colleague from the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics (VCFG) at Peter Mac.

Missing DNA fragments hold clue to predicting childhood leukaemia relapse

Australian cancer researche
Image courtesy of the Children’s Cancer Institute.

Australian researchers have developed a new risk scoring system for children with leukaemia based on missing DNA fragments or ‘microdeletions’.

The risk score will allow doctors to better predict the chance of relapse of a subgroup of kids currently hidden in a lower risk group. The finding was published today in the British Journal of Haematology.

The international study, led by Australian researchers at Children’s Cancer Institute, discovered that searching for specific gene microdeletions found only in leukaemia, when combined with two other test results, provides doctors with a more accurate way to categorise patient risk than the current approach.

The study tested 475 patients from 6 different children’s hospitals in Australia and New Zealand enrolled on a clinical trial sponsored by ANZCHOG, the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology and Oncology Group.

The patients were all children with non-high-risk B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (BCP-ALL), a subtype of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer with survival rates typically near 90%. Most children with ALL have B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

Study leader, Associate Professor Rosemary Sutton, said the most intensive treatment for BCP-ALL patients was usually given to the 11% or so of children in the high-risk category to limit side effects for kids who don’t need it.

“Children in the standard and medium risk category in the study were given less intensive treatment than high-risk patients. But about one in six of them relapsed. Obviously, some children needed more intensive treatment than previously thought – but which ones?” she said.

A/Prof Sutton said she and her collaborators developed a new kind of risk score which builds on a bone marrow test, the minimal residual disease or MRD test developed at Children’s Cancer Institute, which gives doctors early warning that treatment may not be working.

The MRD test is so sensitive it can detect just one cancer cell in a million bone marrow cells surviving cancer treatment. The test was a huge boon for some children with leukaemia on this same trial, since it alerted doctors that they had a very high risk of relapsing.  Consequently, they were treated very intensively with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, and the survival rate of this subgroup doubled. But MRD alone is not enough.

“For the standard to medium risk group, we needed more information to get a better handle on the biology of the child’s cancer to better determine their risk”, said A/Prof Sutton.

“So, we supplemented MRD results with two other pieces of patient information, the presence or absence of specific gene microdeletions and a score called the NCI (National Cancer Institute) risk, based on age and white blood cell count.

“We tested for microdeletions in 9 genes involved in leukaemia and found that two of the genes, IKZF1 (called ‘Ikaros’) and P2RY8-CRLF2, were important predictors of relapse,” she said.

These measures were combined to calculate a risk score for each patient of ‘0’ (no risk factors), to ‘2+’ (several). The study found that children with a ‘2+’ score were most likely to relapse or die within 7 years after treatment started, while those with a ‘0’ score least likely.

The same microdeletions were found to be important for predicting relapse in a cohort of Dutch children with leukaemia and the new scoring system was validated by researchers in The Netherlands.

If the new risk score system is adopted in future, doctors could give children with a ‘2+’ risk more intensive treatment with the aim of improving their survival.

Dr Toby Trahair, paper co-author and oncologist at Kids’ Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick said the scoring system could make a big difference to the success of childhood leukaemia treatment.

“We are always trying to improve how we diagnose and treat children with this most common childhood cancer. This risk score will mean doctors can fine tune a child’s risk category and so fine tune their treatment.

“It will mean more kids can conquer this horrible disease, which only 50 years ago had survival rates of close to zero” he said.

The study included researchers from Children’s Cancer Institute, UNSW, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick as well as researchers in The Netherlands and Germany.

ACRF is a proud supporter of the Children’s Cancer Institute and has provided $5.2 million in funding towards their cancer research.

This story was originally published on Children’s Cancer Institute’s website.

Researchers show aspirin added to cancer drug improves effectiveness

Adding aspirin to some existing cancer drugs could increase their effectiveness against a group of tumours resistant to treatment, new research has shown.

University of Queensland scientists are hoping clinical trials could soon be underway for people with lung, pancreatic and colorectal cancers that have not responded to other therapies.

UQ Diamantina Institute researcher Associate Professor Helmut Schaider said cancers driven by mutations in a group of genes, known as RAS, had a low response to treatments with currently no drug directly targeting them.

The group of tumours includes some pancreatic, lung and colorectal cancers with very low survival rates, as well as a small percentage of melanomas.

“We found the addition of aspirin to a cancer inhibitor drug, Sorafenib, strongly enhanced its effectiveness against mouse models of lung cancer and melanoma with RAS mutations,” Dr Schaider said.

“In a multicentre phase three trial for non-small cell lung cancer, Sorafenib alone showed a marginal improvement for patients.

“Our research suggests its combination with aspirin could benefit patients with RAS mutations who don’t otherwise respond to other treatments.”

Dr Schaider said the drug combination could potentially reduce the dose of Sorafenib required, improving quality of life for patients by reducing adverse impacts that can lead some patients to stop treatment.

“By combining it with a relatively high dose of aspirin, two molecular processes are activated and together they work to kill RAS mutant cancer cells.

“This dual activation also might prevent the tumours acquiring resistance to the treatment, which can happen when the inhibitor drug is given alone.”

Dr Schaider said adverse effects of aspirin also needed to be considered, but the doses required would be most likely clinically manageable for patients who have no remaining treatment options.

“A clinical trial of the combination could proceed relatively quickly, potentially piggy-backing on other testing already underway.”

Dr Schaider, based at the Translational Research Institute, said the dual therapy approach could improve the length of time cancer patients have without their disease progressing.

“We believe adding aspirin could also potentially prevent relapse of tumours in patients.”

The research involved Princess Alexandra Hospital oncologist Dr Victoria Atkinson along with scientists from UQ’s Dermatology Research Centre, Mater Research Institute-UQ, and The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.

Investigations are already underway into combining aspirin with other cancer-inhibiting drugs.

The research is published in Clinical Cancer Research.

ACRF has supported UQ Diamantina Institute since 1999 and has provided $6.2 million in funding towards their cancer research efforts.

Edward is a fundraiser at age 2

charity fundraising eventWe, Jayne and Onan, are the proud and happy parents of a beautiful son, Edward. Originally from the UK and Turkey, we have made Sydney our home for almost 10 years. We work hard during the week in marketing and finance and enjoy taking Edward to the beach on the weekends.

When Edward recently celebrated his second birthday, we organised a party with a theme of his favourite things – trucks and construction. Of course, there was also food, balloons, playtime, laughter, singing, and a special birthday cake. What was unusual for a toddler’s birthday party was our request that everyone make a donation to ACRF rather than bring birthday presents for Edward. Our son is fortunate to already have an abundance of toys, and we thought it would be a special gift for him to contribute to the important cause of cancer research.

Cancer affects so many people, and we’ve experienced one of our nearest and dearest suffer from cancer. Onan’s father sadly passed away from lung cancer three years ago.
We decided to fundraise for ACRF as we’re particularly interested in how they have contributed to impactful projects such as providing the seed funding for the world’s first HPV vaccine. We are impressed that projects which receive funding undergo strong scrutiny by a panel of eminent doctors and scientists.

We are extremely happy to have made Edward’s birthday party into a uniquely meaningful occasion. Friends and family who attended were all very positive about our fundraising efforts and made generous donations. Edward had a wonderful day and we look forward to sharing the story him when he is older.

 

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Tiffany becomes an ACRF regular giver

Regular givingIf I had a personality label, it would read highly motivated and very energetic! I am 47 years old and my husband and I are the parents of two beautiful teenagers. I also work in the busy role of General Manager for a land survey practice. Life often gets absurdly hectic with juggling all of our schedules, but we are a happy and healthy family.

Having previously worked with a medical research institute as the finance manager left me with a good understanding of how much medical research relies on funding support. I chose to become a regular ACRF giver because I particularly like how ACRF funds cancer research of all types.

Sadly, cancer touches all of us at some point. The first time I encountered the disease was with my grandfather. The memory of going to see him during his last few days remains vivid. Although told that he might not remember me, his face lit up when I walked into the room and greeted him. I burst into tears and cried; it was the last time that I saw him.

The next cancer encounter was with my gorgeous father. Some 10 years ago he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I will always remember how upset we were at the possibility of losing him. Dad recovered fully from that cancer, only to suffer squamous cell carcinoma a couple of years ago. The wound healing process after radiotherapy was long and painful but thankfully he pulled through again. I dread the thought that Dad might face another round of cancer at some point in time.

In more recent times my sister-in-law, Deb, was diagnosed with breast and secondary cancer, and my brother in law is currently receiving treatment for lung cancer. My understanding of his cancer is that it can be managed, but not cured. Deb and Trevor are beautiful people and it’s a long road ahead for them both.

Finally, during the past few weeks, the wife of one of my work colleagues was diagnosed with both breast and lung cancer. They are devastated and trying to come to terms with what their future holds.
There are only so many hugs and good wishes you can send when someone you know is confronted with the distressing news of cancer. I want to honour them all by giving back and taking a positive step toward helping to find a cure.

I would encourage anyone thinking about becoming a regular giver to not hesitate. If you can afford to give even a small amount, it will help and is definitely worthwhile. Continued cancer research is the only way of finding a cure, and to give hope to the many patients and their families suffering from the disease.

 

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Latest genomic technology to analyse tumours in Perth

(From left to right) The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Professor Alistair Forrest and Mr Tom Dery AO, ACRF Chair.

 

The Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research wins $1.75m grant to establish ACRF Centre for Advanced Cancer Genomics

The $1.75M grant awarded by the Australian Cancer Research Fund (ACRF) will fund three pieces of equipment, including a high throughput next generation DNA sequencer and equipment to isolate single cells from a patient’s tumour.

The equipment will make it possible to analyse thousands of cells from hundreds of tumours and examine billions of genetic sequences to determine the genetic make-up of each tumour and provide new insights into how cancer cells evolve and interact with normal cells.

It will be housed at the world-class single-cell sequencing facility being led by The University of Western Australia’s Professor Forrest at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Nedlands.

Single cell analysis of cancer tumours, to see which genes are turned on and off in thousands of cells within a patient’s tumour, is the next wave in cancer research, providing hope to patients that researchers will be able to identify new drugs to combat cancer, better predict a tumour’s response to drugs and develop innovative ways to kill cancer cells.

A consortium of cancer researchers and clinicians across Perth led by Professor Alistair Forrest who heads up the Systems Biology and Genomics Laboratory at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research was recently awarded $3.75M from the Cancer Research Trust to build a comprehensive atlas of the cell types that make up cancer tumours.

“The new equipment funded by the ACRF will make it quicker and less costly to generate large amounts of sequence data, which means the tumours of more patients will be able to be analysed.

“The low survival rates for some cancers, such as mesothelioma, ovarian and pancreatic cancers, highlight the need for these new approaches to understand and target cancer better.

“This new equipment is essential to building an in depth atlas of the cell types in tumours.

“Using advanced single cell profiling technologies, we will survey the cell types, the genes turned on and off in each cell and mutations contained in each patient’s tumour.

“Studying tumours at the single cell level provides opportunities to identify novel biomarkers, predict response rates to drugs and provide a better understanding of cancer which ultimately will lead to new treatments,” Professor Forrest said.

“These technologies are the next wave of genomics and we have a once in a decade opportunity to establish them and remain at the leading edge,” he said.

The Australian Cancer Research Fund (ACRF) has awarded four grants across Australia to research it considers has the greatest potential to change treatment outcomes for all Australian cancer patients.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation Chief Executive, Professor Ian Brown said it was important to invest in technology that will help build in-depth knowledge of cancer cells and their environment.

“The new ACRF Centre for Advanced Cancer Genomics at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research will provide new insights into how cancer cells evolve and interact with normal cells, leading to new cancer treatments that will benefit all Australian cancer patients.”

“Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters from around Australia we are able to award high-impact grants, allowing Australia’s best scientists to embark on ground-breaking research projects.

“These cancer research initiatives are directed at all types of cancer and speed up discoveries, ultimately working to save lives by saving time,” says Professor Brown.

Chief investigators on the ACRF grant were: Prof Alistair Forrest, Prof Ryan Lister, and Prof Peter Leedman from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research; Assoc Prof Timo Lassmann, Prof Ursula Kees, and Professor Terrance Johns from Telethon Kids Institute, Prof Christobel Saunders, Prof Camile Farah, Prof Wendy Erber, Prof Bruce Robinson, Prof Anna Nowak, Adj Prof Richard Lake, Prof Michael Millward and Assoc Prof Benhur Amanuel from The University of Western Australia and Prof Mel Ziman, from, Edith Cowan University.

Recognising the importance of next generation sequencing in Perth, co-funding for the sequencer has also been provided by The University of Western Australia, Curtin, Murdoch, ECU, and CSIRO.
The grant presentation will be made by the Governor General at a ceremony at Government House in Victoria at 6pm EST on 29 November.

New cancer imaging centre to shine a light on the life of a tumour

ONJCRI 2017
(From left to right) The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria, Professor Matthias Ernst and Mr Tom Dery AO, ACRF Chair.

A $2 million grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF), announced today, will fund a state-of-the-art imaging centre to understand how and why tumours corrupt the normal cells of their immediate environment.

The grant enables the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) and Latrobe Institute of Molecular Science (LIMS) to extend its ground-breaking work on the interaction between individual tumour cells and normal cells, and accelerate the speed with which results in the laboratory can be translated into treatments for cancer patients.

‘Cellular interactions are crucial for tumours – they drive the growth of tumours and their spread to metastatic sites; these interactions are also often responsible for tumours becoming resistant to targeted therapy,’ Professor Matthias Ernst, Scientific Director of ONJCRI, said. ‘This new centre will literally shine a light on what happens in the micro-environment around a tumour, giving us the information we need to develop effective, targeted anti-cancer therapies.’

‘We know that tumour cells coerce and corrupt their environment to their advantage. If we understand the interactions and mechanisms they use to do this, we will better understand how to counter them.’

Professor Ernst, who is also the Head of the School of Cancer Medicine at La Trobe University, welcomed the generous support of the ACRF.

‘Australia is blessed with world-class cancer research and is playing a lead in the development of anti-tumour treatment, including those that harness the power of the body’s own immune system. We all recognise that our research achievements have to stay abreast of the rising rates of cancer, and the new ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment will facilitate that.’

‘The ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Microenvironment will offer cutting edge capabilities for researchers both at the ONJCRI and at LIMS who are studying the interactions between cancer cells. The collaborative opportunities that will arise from the centre will also greatly benefit advances in cancer research,’ said Professor Andrew Hill, Head of La Trobe University’s Institute for Molecular Sciences.

‘The ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment will provide new insights into how the micro-environment impacts tumour growth, leading to new targeted and immune based cancer treatments that will benefit all Australian cancer patients,’ ACRF Chief Executive, Professor Ian Brown, said.

‘Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters from around Australia we are able to award high-impact grants, allowing Australia’s best scientists to embark on ground-breaking research projects. These cancer research initiatives cover all types of cancer and speed up discoveries, ultimately working to save lives by saving time,’ says Professor Brown.

Each year ACRF challenges the Australian cancer research community to propose projects that are bold and have the potential to make a significant impact on cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

In 2017, thirteen projects were submitted from across the country and evaluated by ACRF’s esteemed Medical Research Advisory Committee. The Committee recommended four grants to the ACRF Board for projects that have the greatest potential to change treatment outcomes for all Australian cancer patients.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation awards $7.5 million to accelerate cancer research across Australia

grants announcement

SYDNEY, NSW — The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) has announced $7.5 million in cancer research funding today cutting-edge research technology and infrastructure to speed up discoveries in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Professor Ian Brown, CEO of Australian Cancer Research Foundation, emphasised the importance of the community’s support.

“Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters from around Australia we can award high-impact grants, allowing Australia’s best scientists to embark on revolutionary research projects. These cancer research initiatives investigate all types of cancer and act as a catalyst to speed up discoveries which are ultimately working to save lives by saving time”.

“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. “Thirteen projects were submitted from across the country and assessed by ACRF’s eminent Medical Research Advisory Committee who were impressed by the quality and vision of the applications,” said Professor Brown.

The recipients of the annual ACRF grants in 2017 are:

ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment – $2 million for new imaging technology which will help develop new therapies by examining tumours within the patient’s body as well as individual cells in a tumour.

Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and La Trobe University, VIC

ACRF Centre for Advanced Cancer Genomics – $1.75 million for equipment that will help build in-depth knowledge of all cell types that make up a tumour. This will provide new insights into how cancer cells evolve and interact with normal cells, leading to new treatments.

Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, WA

ACRF Centre for Advanced Cellular Immunotherapy – $1.75 million for the development of manufacturing and monitoring facilities that will support new immunotherapy clinical trials.

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, QLD

ACRF Oasis Research Centre – $2 million for a new facility that supports research into improving long-term health outcomes of cancer patients and survivors.

South Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW

Since 1984, ACRF has awarded $136.8 million in grants to Australian cancer research institutes, hospitals and universities across the country to fund the technologies, infrastructure and equipment.

Funding from ACRF has helped get some of the most successful cancer research projects get off the ground, including the early support of the research that led to the cervical cancer vaccine.

ACRF is dedicated to funding research in Australia that has the power to make substantial breakthroughs in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment for all types of cancer across Australia.

$2 million grant brings Liverpool cancer Wellness Centre one step closer

(From left to right() Mr Anthony Howard QC, The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria, Professor Geoff Delaney and Mr Tom Dery AO, ACRF Chair.

 

Liverpool Hospital Cancer Services has been awarded a $2 million Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) grant to go towards providing a facility for the first cancer Wellness Centre in south-west Sydney.

Liverpool’s Director of Cancer Services, Professor Geoff Delaney, said the grant was a huge step forward for the innovative Oncology Alliance for the Science of Integrated Survivorship (the ACRF OASIS Centre).

“We are extremely excited, it has taken a lot of effort from the initial idea six or seven years ago and this is good recognition for the treatments and the effort all the staff have put in in this area,” he said.

The centre will work in partnership with universities and research institutes including the University of NSW, Western Sydney University, the Ingham Institute and the National Institute of Complementary Medicine.

“The centre will focus on gathering scientific evidence on the use of a wide range of treatments including massage, acupuncture, exercise, Chinese medicine and diet in improving short and long-term treatment and quality of life outcomes for cancer patients,” Professor Delaney said.

The ACRF OASIS Centre will be the only centre in Sydney collecting data for research and evidence purposes in order to further improve the care that can be provided to future cancer patients.

“UNSW Medicine welcomes this generous grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation towards an important initiative for the people of south-west Sydney,” said UNSW Acting Dean of Medicine Professor Anthony Kelleher.

“A Wellness Centre would not only benefit cancer patients in the care they receive, and help improve their quality of life; it would also advance our scientific understanding of new approaches to cancer treatment and aligns perfectly with our thematic approach to research and education. It will further strengthen our links and commitment to the south west.”

ACRF Chief Executive, Professor Ian Brown, said the ACRF was excited to seed fund the development of the facility.

“Research into improving long term health outcomes of cancer patients will benefit all Australian cancer patients,” he said.

“Many times patients are left weakened due to the debilitating impact of their treatment and research into reducing adverse effects of treatment will be welcomed by all.

“ACRF is pleased to support the development and delivery of evidence based models of care, which will significantly improve quality of life for cancer patients.

“Thanks to the generosity of many of our supporters from around Australia we are able to award high-impact grants, allowing Australia’s best scientists to embark on ground-breaking research projects.”

The ACRF OASIS Centre is still about $1.1million from being able to begin construction of the building.

Professor Delaney said he was confident they would be able to attract the remaining funding, and he welcomed anyone who was interested in being involved in funding the centre and helping to significantly further cancer care research.

Each year ACRF challenges the Australian cancer research community to propose projects that are bold and have the potential to make a significant impact on cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

In 2017, 13 projects were submitted from across the country and evaluated by ACRF’s eminent Medical Research Advisory Committee. The Committee recommended four grants to the ACRF Board for projects that have the greatest potential to change treatment outcomes for all Australian cancer patients.

 

ACRF grant to transform Queensland into global immunotherapy hub

QIMR Berghofer grant
(From left to right) Mr Anthony Howard QC, The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria and Professor Frank Gannon.

 

Brisbane will continue to produce new and world-leading cancer immunotherapy treatments, thanks to a $1.75 million grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

The funding was announced at a ceremony in Melbourne this evening. It will allow QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute to establish the ACRF Centre for Advanced Cellular Immunotherapy and to expand its capacity to develop, trial and produce immunotherapies to treat cancers, including those treated with bone marrow transplants.

In the last decade, immunotherapy has emerged as the “fourth pillar” of cancer treatment, along with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It works by “training” the immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells. The field has given hope to thousands of cancer patients by successfully treating aggressive cancers like melanoma that do not respond to chemotherapy.

The ACRF funding will be used to expand QIMR Berghofer’s existing cell manufacturing facility, Q-Gen Cell Therapeutics, and to buy new equipment needed to produce cellular immunotherapies. In recognition, a new facility named the “ACRF Centre for Advanced Cellular Immunotherapy” will be established within QIMR Berghofer.

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO, Professor Frank Gannon, has thanked the ACRF for its invaluable support.

“QIMR Berghofer is already at the global forefront of research into cancer immunotherapy. We are currently trialling some of the most exciting new treatments in Australia. But because of that success, demands on our facilities are growing,” Professor Gannon said.

“This extremely generous contribution will allow us to scale up production of clinical-grade immunotherapies for patients treated within clinical trials.

“But the ACRF’s support won’t only benefit QIMR Berghofer. Research organisations from across Australia and the world will be able to have clinical-grade treatments produced at our regulatory-approved facility, meaning this funding will help to advance the field of immunotherapy globally.”

ACRF Chief Executive, Professor Ian Brown, said the Australian Cancer Research Foundation was pleased to invest in the development of novel immunotherapies that would benefit all cancer patients.

“The new ACRF Centre for Advanced Cellular Immunotherapy at QIMR Berghofer will provide leadership in the development and manufacture of clinical agents for use in immunotherapy clinical trials,” Professor Brown said.

“We are excited to participate in a project that holds a promise to significantly advance the development of cancer treatment as well as improving treatment outcomes for all types of cancer.

“Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters from around Australia we are able to award high-impact grants, allowing Australia’s best scientists to embark on ground-breaking research projects. These cancer research initiatives will help to speed up discoveries that will ultimately work to save lives by saving time.”

The grant is one of four awarded by the ACRF’s Medical Research Advisory Committee Australia-wide. Funding is awarded to projects that have the potential to make a significant impact on the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.

Stress suppresses response to cancer treatments

New research shows that chronic stress suppresses the immune system’s response to cancer, reducing the effectiveness of immunotherapy treatments.

University of Queensland scientists say they are investigating dual therapies for patients to reduce stress signalling and improve their response to treatments.

UQ Diamantina Institute researcher Dr Stephen Mattarollo said lymphoma progressed more rapidly in mouse models when stress pathways were induced to reflect chronic psychological stress.

“When we used immunotherapies on these mice they were not able to respond as effectively as those which had not been stressed,” Dr Mattarollo said.

“This is because the stress led to poor function against the cancer by T-cells, which are very important in the immune system’s control and surveillance of tumours and are a major target in many immunotherapy treatments.”

Dr Mattarollo said increased anxiety was natural with a cancer diagnosis, and it should be managed to ensure the best possible outcome for patients.

“Absolutely there is now pre-clinical evidence to suggest that treatments and lifestyle interventions to manage or reduce stress levels will improve the chances of these patients responding to therapies,” he said.

“This applies particularly to immunotherapies, but many conventional therapies such as chemotherapy also rely on components of the immune system for their effectiveness.

“It is quite possible that by increasing the immune function in patients they will also respond better to some other therapies.”

PhD candidate Michael Nissen said as immunotherapies became more widely available, it was important to build on the knowledge of factors which influence their effectiveness.

“The more we know, the better chance we have of designing them effectively and efficiently to work in cancer patients,” Mr Nissen said.

Dr Mattarollo said the lab was hoping to combine immunotherapy treatments with commonly used blood pressure drugs that block the effects of stress hormones.

“We hope this will reduce the stress-induced neural signalling and improve immune function,” Dr Mattarollo said.

“We are about to test this combination in animal models.”

Dr Mattarollo said psychoneuroimmunology – or the interaction between the mind, the nervous system and the immune system – is a rapidly growing discipline and is becoming an increasing focus of the lab’s cancer research.

The research has been published in Cancer Immunology Research.

The original news article was posted on Diamantina Institute’s website.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at Diamantina Institute by providing three grants, totalling AUD$ 6.2 million, for the purchase of cutting edge research equipment and technology.

New institute to revolutionise cancer imaging and targeted radiotherapy

The ACRF Image X Institute, a world-leading centre for medical innovation, launches today at its University of Sydney headquarters.

The work of the Institute will focus on creating new medical devices for cancer imaging and targeted radiotherapy. The Institute will provide a site and forum where academia, medicine, industry and government can advance the science and clinical practice of cancer treatment.

The ACRF Image X Institute will be led by Professors Paul Keall (University of Sydney), Michael Barton (Ingham Institute), and Associate Professor Michael Jackson (Prince of Wales Hospital), with a team of world renowned researchers and collaborators.

The Institute is funded by $2.5 million from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and a further $25 million in research support.

There are three main research nodes in New South Wales including the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre; Liverpool Hospital’s Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research; and Prince of Wales Hospital’s Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

“Our mission is to create, share and apply scientific knowledge to improve human health,” said Institute Director Professor Paul Keall, from Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney.

“We will revolutionise medical imaging, transform functionally targeted radiotherapy and enable global access to radiotherapy.

“With world class expertise in bench-to-bedside translational research, an entrepreneurial focus and cross-disciplinary collaborations, the Institute will attract top tier researchers with a track record of pioneering technology.”

The $2.5 million funding from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation is supporting three unique cancer imaging and targeted radiotherapy devices. 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. These devices will increase cure rates and reduce the human and economic costs of treatment-related side effects.

“The ACRF Image X Institute has the potential to make significant advances in the delivery of radiation therapy worldwide,” said Professor Ian Brown CEO, Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

“Improvements in treatment accuracy will minimise harmful side effects and lead to improved patient outcomes. The development of new hardware will reduce the cost of equipment, giving more people, also in underserviced areas, access to treatment.

“ACRF is dedicated to funding innovative research in the pursuit of ways to prevent or more effectively treat cancer. The ACRF Image X Institute will have a worldwide impact and ACRF is proud to stimulate major advancements in radiotherapy.”

The Institute currently has 270 papers published in top international journals, with six clinical world-firsts in research discoveries and technology, and 13 clinical trials taking place in Australian hospitals. There have been 25 commercial R&D projects, with 25 issued and filed patents, eight licenses issued and three spin-off companies.

Image: Courtesy of ACRF Image X Institute, University of Sydney

Two team up and go bald at fundraiser

Headshave fundraiserPenny and Emma created Team Park Balding to participate in Head Shave for Cancer Research and to support ACRF. Both women have a background in science and grasp the importance and impact of scientific research. They chose to raise money for ACRF because of the organisation’s funding of research into all cancers.

“We didn’t want to be exclusive in terms of the type of cancer when we were fundraising as all cancers are impactful and distressful to humanity.”

Penny: Cancer is such a tricky disease to treat and cure. By doing this event for ACRF I hope to contribute to the research that will make life easier for cancer patients and their families. As a scientist in the biomedical field, I am passionate about unravelling the complexities of diseases and using science to improve lives. By facing the challenge head-on with passionate and diligent science, hopefully, we can eventually leave harsh treatments behind and find a cure.

Emma: At some point in life we will all be affected in some way by cancer and yet it is so easy to feel alone or that you stand out during that battle. Penny and I have both seen how devastating cancer is in society and how it impacts on people’s lives. Losing people prematurely to this disease has been a motivator to take action to help further cancer research.

“We both chose to do the shave partly because it’s been shown to be a really successful way of fundraising. We also felt that it was a great call to arms to jump on board as it’s a big commitment and personal change for us to make which showed everyone how seriously we felt about fundraising for cancer.”

Emma: Shaving my head is my way of showing support in the visual sense. Being bald has become a societal flag for a cancer patient and that makes a person’s private battle very public. I hope to show my solidarity with patients with this disease and reduce any feelings of isolation associated with hair loss.

Penny: Hair loss brings with it a unique vulnerability as people often use hair as an expression of vanity or as a shield from the outside world. By removing my hair, I want to show anyone who is dealing with this disease that they don’t have to stand out on their own. I also want to symbolise the cutting back of obstacles and barriers that can obscure our clear view and understanding of cancer, which is what more and more research funding will be able to do for the reality of cancer in the future.

“We wish for a future where a cancer diagnosis is not fatal. The only way we’re going to make it to that end is if we do some really solid research into various cancers and make sure early diagnosis is more prevalent and therapies are more effective at reducing and removing cancer from the body.”

Team Park Balding had a big turn-out of friends, families, kids and dogs at their Sunday afternoon barbeque and fundraising party at Jell’s Park, Melbourne. Over $5,700 in donations was collected at the event for ACRF and cancer research.

“We are proud of what we’ve been able to achieve together and so glad that we undertook this event as a team. It was something really worthwhile to put our energy into. Raising funds was tangible, and there was our sense of accomplishment and pride to actually go through with the head shave.”

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New study aims to deliver better outcomes for triple negative breast cancer patients

New research at the Westmead Institute aims to develop a targeted treatment for triple negative breast cancer patients.

Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for approximately 15 percent of all breast cancers but, unlike more common types of breast cancer, it does not have a targeted or effective treatment leading to poor outcomes for patients.

Lead researcher, Dr Dinny Graham from the Breast Cancer Research Group, said she hopes this study will uncover the receptors present in triple negative breast cancer so that a targeted treatment can be developed.

“We want to be able to develop personalised tests for patients suffering from triple negative breast cancer, but we need to know which receptors to target first,” Dr Graham said.

The most common form of breast cancer is estrogen receptor positive (ER+). The standard care treatment for ER+ patients targets the estrogen receptor and is highly effective.

However, ER+, triple negative breast cancer lacks estrogen receptors and therefore that treatment is not as effective.

The estrogen receptor is just one of a family of 48 different human nuclear receptors that are important to many aspects of human health.

Dr Graham has found that a number of these receptors could perform a similar role as estrogen receptors in diagnosing and treating triple negative breast cancer.

Her team is now testing which nuclear receptors act as biomarkers that may present an opportunity for targeted therapeutic treatments.

“Receptors are recognised as excellent biomarkers and as potential drug targets.

“A number of drugs, targeting a range of receptors are already approved for other clinical applications. We have evidence that some of these might be repurposed to treat triple negative breast cancer.

“This research could mean reduced mortality rates and reduced side effects of untargeted chemotherapy,” she concluded.

This study aims to close the existing knowledge gap and deliver new insights into treating patients with triple negative breast cancer.

Dr Dinny Graham is scientific lead of the Translational Breast Cancer Genomics Group at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research.

Facts:

1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
144 Australian men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
More than 3,000 Australians will die from breast cancer this year.

This research news was originally posted on The Westmead Institute’s website.

ACRF has provided Westmead Institute with $7m in funding towards cancer research.

 

Karen’s Story

 

My name is Karen and I am a high school teacher, a farmer’s wife and the mother of two boisterous girls aged six and four. We live on our family farm near the rural village of Caragabal in Central NSW.

Like you, I am an ACRF supporter, and I am dedicated to raising funds for cancer research to ensure that all families will get to spend Christmas together for years to come.

And, as ACRF supporters, we know all too well that cancer affects all Australians, from the country to the city, to the coast, from my small village to your community.

Cancer is not new to our family. My dad died of cancer almost 20 years ago, and now I am a cancer survivor myself.

Last year, I was diagnosed with aggressive triple negative breast cancer at 35 years of age. I underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, node dissection and radiation treatment.

Thanks to these and other breakthroughs in cancer research, there is no longer any evidence of breast cancer in my body.

And, thanks to all these advances, I have been left with hope.

Hope that the cancer never comes back. Hope that my daughters will never be directly affected by it. Hope that I will be around to help them through puberty, weddings and babies. And, hope that I will live long enough to enjoy retirement with my husband.

After my personal experience with cancer, I urgently wanted to do my bit to help Australian cancer researchers to find ways to beat all types of cancer.

Although cancer treatments are improving, and major research breakthroughs are getting closer, I know that dedicated efforts will require more funding.

When you make a donation to ACRF today, you give Australia’s best researchers access to the equipment they need to end cancer. By funding new technology, we are helping scientists to uncover information that will lead to better cancer treatment and prevention sooner.

We can all do our part to bring hope to all Australians – together we can help put an end to all types of cancer.
With more funds, researchers and scientists can help realise the hopes and dreams of so many Australian families like mine and yours. Thank you for joining me.   

Karen – ACRF supporter and cancer survivor

Please donate by 31 December to equip Australia’s best researchers with the tools they need to end all cancers.

 

Brain cancer in Australia

File 20171110 29341 7bkchy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
All brain tumours are associated with significant sickness and death, even if they are benign.
from shutterstock.com

Authors Melinda Tea, University of South Australia and Stuart Pitson, University of South Australia

While survival rates for most cancers continue to improve in Australia, brain cancers aren’t seeing the same success. Australians diagnosed with brain cancer had around a 25% chance of surviving for five years from 2009 to 2013. This was compared to a survival rate of 68% for all cancers combined in the same period.

Brain and central nervous system cancers (CNS) can be either malignant or benign, but unlike benign tumours in other tissues, all brain and CNS tumours are associated with significant sickness and death.

Survival rates

It is estimated that 2,076 new cases of brain and other CNS cancers will be diagnosed in Australia in 2017. Around 1,500 people will die from this disease.

While the survival rate is 25% for brain cancer in general, for certain brain cancers it’s much worse. For instance, glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer in adults, has a five year survival rate of 4.6%.

So why hasn’t there been an improvement in survival in the last 30 years for patients with brain tumours? A frequent problem is that it’s hard for drugs to actually get to the tumour. The brain has a unique defence, termed the “blood-brain barrier”, that limits the passage of drugs from the bloodstream into the brain.


Indeed, most chemotherapies are stopped from getting to the brain by the blood-brain barrier. Those that do, such as temozolomide used to treat brain tumours including glioblastoma, unfortunately have limited efficacy, and only improve survival by several months at best. There is clearly a desperate need to identify new drug targets and more effective therapies for brain tumour treatment.

Incidence rates

Incidence rates for brain and CNS cancers have stayed steady for some decades but the sickness and death that comes with the disease continues to affect many Australian lives. A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that the incidence of many cancers has increased over time.

CC BY-ND

In many cases this is due to our ageing population, as cancer is more common in older age. But other lifestyle factors also play a role. For example obesity, type two diabetes and alcohol consumption are three major risk factors for liver cancer, rates of which have increased.


The incidence of some other cancers has decreased though. In the case of lung cancer, this is likely due to a decrease in smoking. While the introduction of a vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV) (which is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer) would explain the drop in cervical cancer rates.

In comparison, the overall incidence of brain cancer has remained stable over the last 30 years, probably because there are no known lifestyle or environmental factors that contribute to these cancers. While we don’t know what causes brain and CNS tumours, there is evidence to suggest genetics and high levels of radiation may play a role.

Childhood brain cancer

While many cancers almost exclusively present in older people, this is not the case with brain tumours, as these kill more people under 40 than any other cancer.

Perhaps of most concern is that brain tumours disproportionately affect children, killing more children (aged 1-14 years old) in Australia than any other disease. They are only third to land transport accidents and congenital and associated abnormalities as causes of child death in Australia.

The prognosis for children with brain cancers, the most common being medulloblastoma, is much better than in adults though. Around 70% of these patients will have curable disease.

But, undergoing life-saving treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation comes at a long-term cost for these children, as these therapies themselves are associated with detrimental effects on childhood development. These can potentially result in neurological defects, learning difficulties, growth abnormalities and mental health issues.

The ConversationThe Australian government recently announced a A$100 million dollar medical research fund committed to doubling the survival rates and improving the quality of life of patients with brain cancer over the next ten years. It is hoped with this substantial investment, progress will be made to eventually defeat brain cancer.

 

Melinda Tea, Research Associate, Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia and Stuart Pitson, NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kelly’s second fundraiser is a roaring success

I started working in aged care 12 years ago and during that time I saw many people and their families suffer from cancer. Then a few years ago my Nan was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and she passed rather quickly. All these sad events reinforced my desire to assist ACRF by fundraising. I believe it’s important to support cancer research, not only in hope of a cure one day, but for the advances in treatments, including less side effects, to aid in a better quality of life.

Since giving up my nursing career, I’ve been working in massage therapy and now thoroughly enjoy helping clients with reducing stress and promoting a sense of health and well-being. Running my own small business also gives me the important flexibility of spending more time with our young two children, Lucy and Connor. Outside of family commitments and fundraising, I try to slot in time with my horses too.

For my second ACRF fundraiser, I chose to host a dinner and murder mystery party; it’s something different and so much fun! The event was sold out a couple of months before the event date and there was a waiting list of others who wanted to attend. The party gave everyone the chance to dress up, enjoy a delicious three-course meal and dance the night away with new friends. A personal highlight of the evening was when my very poised six-year-old daughter welcomed everyone to the party.

The feedback from guests was really positive, and there were several requests for me to host another party next year! It is gratifying to raise $5,600 for ACRF, and I thank everyone for their support and generosity.

I would say to anyone thinking about organising an event to just have a go and do something that is fun. Every cent collected for cancer research does count.

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charity fundraising event

Pancreatic cancer patients to benefit from breast cancer drug

Pancreatic cancer research discovery

A newly approved breast cancer drug could be highly effective against some forms of pancreatic cancer, including metastatic cancer. The study also revealed a new straightforward way to test which patients might respond positively to treatment.

Dr Marina Pajic, leader of the Personalised Cancer Therapeutics Group at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, said the test was designed to meet an urgent need for new, targeted therapies for pancreatic cancer.

“We know that the underlying drivers of pancreatic cancer at the molecular level differ from person to person. Despite this, there are currently few treatments that directly target the molecular drivers of an individual’s pancreatic cancer, but only a one-size-fits-all combination chemotherapy approach – and the fact is that this simply isn’t effective for most patients,” said Dr Pajic.

The researchers examined over 550 tumour biopsies from pancreatic cancer patients. In about two-thirds of those tumours, they found, a cellular pathway known as the ‘Cdk4/6 pathway’ was switched on, driving tumour cells to grow and divide.

“This was an important clue for us and we started to look in depth at how best to block the Cdk4/6 pathway. We know that the drug palbociclib switches off the Cdk4/6 protein, so we reasoned that palbociclib might halt the growth of the many pancreatic cancers where this pathway is on.”

Biomarker helps predict which patients will benefit

The researchers also showed that the RB protein – another protein in the Cdk4/6 pathway – was present in high levels in Cdk4/6 “ON” tumours and so could act as a biomarker of the tumour subtype.

“Having a good biomarker is essential for personalised medicine, because it gives us a way to predict who is likely to respond to treatment,” said Dr Angela Chou a pathologist and researcher at Garvan and St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.

Dr Chou also said that RB levels help to identify and treat metastatic tumours.

“Excitingly, data from our patient samples shows us that, if a primary tumour has high RB levels, then it’s likely that the metastatic tumours will also. This means there’s a possibility that both primary and metastatic tumours could be targeted in the same patient in the future,” added Dr Chou.

More information on the potential of palbociclib as a targeted therapy to treat pancreatic cancer could be coming soon.

“Therapies that target the Cdk4/6 pathway are already in clinical trials for pancreatic cancer here in Australia – and we’d love to see testing for tumour RB levels in those trials to learn more about its power to predict treatment success in people,” Dr Chou concluded.

Currently, five-year survival rates after pancreatic cancer diagnosis stand at just 7% – a figure that has scarcely improved in the last four decades. Most pancreatic cancers are diagnosed after the tumour has spread beyond the pancreas, making treatment even more challenging.

The findings have been published this week online in the journal Gut.

The research news was originally posted on Garvan’s website.

ACRF has proudly provided Garvan Institute with $6.1m towards cancer research since 2003.

 

Hannah cuts her hair for charity

cancer fundraising eventWe are the very proud parents of Hannah. Our 7-year-old daughter has a sweet and sensitive nature and is generous of heart. Hannah was born deaf in one ear but that has not slowed her down in the least. She attends a mainstream school, is now in grade 2 at St. Peter’s Primary School, and this year was asked to be part of their advanced reading programme.

Not long ago, Hannah heard from her good friend and classmate about children with cancer and how these children lose their hair from chemo treatments. Hannah spent about a week pondering this information and asked a lot of questions which I answered the best that I could. Hannah sometimes seems wise beyond her years and is very empathetic for such a young girl.

When Hannah came to her Dad and me about cutting her hair off and donating it to a charity to raise money for cancer patients, we were shocked. However, there are times as a parent when you need to accept your child’s good-hearted intentions, despite your own feelings, and this was one of those times.

My mother Brenda, who is a professional hairdresser, was happy to help with her granddaughter’s request. On Sunday, October 22, Hannah’s lovely long brown hair was shortened by nine inches. Yes, I cried and Hannah cried because I was crying! Then Hannah hugged me and we smiled away the tears.

Because Hannah wants to turn her hair into a wig for one child with cancer and wants to raise awareness of cancer, we decided to select two charities: Pantene and Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

We learn every day from our selfless daughter and hope that others will as well. A world free of cancer can happen one little step – like Hannah’s – at a time.

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Nigel will bare his chest for ACRF

charity fundraising event

I’m a huge believer in the phrase “no pain, no gain”! Given this, and with some encouragement from my wife and friends, I have agreed to have my chest waxed to raise funds for cancer research in memory of my Mum.

In April 2016, my Mum passed away back home in Northern Ireland as the result of a short illness from bowel cancer. My brother who is also in Northern Ireland recently organised a whisky tasting event to collect donations for Marie Curie, which is one of the organisations that assisted with Mum’s care. He was successful in raising almost $7,000 so I took inspiration from that and decided to do something in Perth, where I work as an environmental advisor. Because the Marie Curie charity isn’t set up in Australia, I chose to support ACRF for their commitment to funding cancer research.

Unfortunately, my family has been hit a few times by the devastating effects of cancer so it doesn’t take any other incentive for me to back cancer research. I also feel that it’s important to champion the research discoveries made with any type of cancer. It is a powerful motivator and people sometimes need a bit of hope, inspiration and confidence to help financially support this vital work.

I am pretty certain Mum wouldn’t be in favour of the whole chest waxing malarkey which will happen on what would have been her 67th birthday – 2 December. Yet again, she might approve on this occasion as the funds raised are going to an organisation that is striving to end this horrible disease.

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Collaboration leads to search for new cancer treatments

Melbourne researchers have produced the first three-dimensional (3D) map of a molecular ‘scaffold’ called SgK223, known to play a critical role in the development and spread of aggressive breast, colon and pancreatic cancers.

Armed with the map, the research team is looking at ways of targeting parts of the scaffold molecule critical for its function. They hope the research will lead to novel strategies to target cancer.

The research was the result of a long-standing collaboration between Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers Dr Onisha Patel and Dr Isabelle Lucet and Monash University’s Biomedicine Research Institute researcher Professor Roger Daly, with important inputs from Dr Michael Griffin at Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne, and Dr Santosh Panjikar at the Australian Synchrotron.

Dr Lucet said SgK223 was a member of a family of proteins called pseudokinases and had been classified for a long time as a ‘dead enzyme’.

“SgK223 doesn’t have the measurable activity that we see with other types of enzymes, and this meant it was largely ignored. However in the past decade, we’ve come to understand that this ‘dead enzyme’ plays an active and important role in cell signalling,” Dr Lucet said.

SgK223 is unique among pseudokinases because it acts as a molecular scaffold, facilitating the assembly of vital signalling molecules whose activities control the normal functions of a cell, such as cell shape and migration.

“Because of its primary role in facilitating the assembly of signalling molecules, high levels of SgK223 can jeopardise the normal functions of a cell and contribute to changes that lead to cancer,” Dr Lucet said.

“High levels of SgK223 have been found in some aggressive subtypes of breast, colon and pancreatic cancers, suggesting that SgK223 could be a potential target for novel anti-cancer therapies.”

Dr Patel said facilities at the Australian Synchrotron enabled the team to get an unprecedented view of SgK223.

“Because molecular scaffolds such as SgK223 are structurally quite large, we focused on a critical part of the protein and produced a 3D map using facilities at the Australian Synchrotron. With this map, we have now identified several regions of SgK223 that are essential for its ability to assemble signalling molecules,” Dr Patel said.

“Solving the 3D map of SgK223 is a critical step in the effort to discover how this molecular scaffold functions, and future research will verify whether targeting SgK223 could have an impact in treating cancers.”

Professor Daly said the 3D map would enable researchers to investigate how targeting SgK223 impacts cancer cells.

“With this 3D map, we can now start to look at how inhibiting the function of SgK223 by targeting particular regions of the scaffold affects cell growth and spread in cancers where it is present at high levels, such as triple negative breast cancers,” Professor Daly said.

World-class facilities at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne were instrumental in the discovery, Dr Lucet said. “The Australian Synchrotron is the only facility in the Southern Hemisphere that has the specialised technology required to provide us with detailed knowledge essential for seeing molecules at an atomic level. This is essential if we wish to discover and develop drugs that target and interfere with molecules that drive cancer and other diseases,” Dr Lucet said.

The research was recently published in Nature Communications.

This news was originally published on the WEHI website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at the at the Australian Synchrotron with a $2 million grant and Walter Hall and Eliza Institute by providing them with three grants totalling $5.5 million.

Grace does the cut for ACRF

cancer fundraising headshave

If asked to describe myself, I would say: determined, compassionate, disciplined, and aspiring to develop a career in the field of mental health. I study a Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours) at the University of Queensland, just handed in my one-year research thesis, and will be graduating from my undergraduate degree in December 2017. I recently submitted my Masters of Clinical Psychology and PhD applications and now wait to hear back with the outcome.

There is also the sporty side of me. I am very lucky to have represented Australia multiple times in Taekwondo at world championships.

I decided to fundraise for ACRF because too many people around me in the past 12 months have been diagnosed or affected by cancer. I struggled with not being able to do anything to help them so gathering donations for ACRF and cancer research was the perfect way for me to do just that.

After looking at ways to raise money, I decided on a salon event where 15 inches of my hair were cut off. The funds collected went to ACRF and my hair to Variety the Children’s Charity, which makes specialised wigs for children who can’t grow their own hair because of medical conditions such as cancer or alopecia. As a budding developmental psychologist, I recognise the impact that physical differences can have on children while they’re growing up.

We all know that cancer is a horrible condition that doesn’t discriminate who it affects. It impacts a person in so many ways. I believe in the values of ACRF, and what they can do for cancer research. Continued vital research is the only way that we can beat this monster disease.

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Breast cancer pioneers win Victoria prize for Science and Innovation

Breast cancer researchers Professors Jane Visvader and Geoff Lindeman, who jointly lead the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer division, have been awarded the 2017 Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation in the Life Sciences.

The $50,000 prize celebrates the researchers’ two-decade commitment to cancer research, involving landmark discoveries in how breast cancers arise and could be prevented and treated.

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton said the scientists were pioneers in their field and responsible for advancing research throughout many years of dedicated work.

“Geoff and Jane, along with their teams, have made crucial discoveries describing both healthy breast development and how errors within this process can lead to cancer,” Professor Hilton said.

“Most recently, their efforts were instrumental in discovering that a new class of anti-cancer drugs, when combined with existing drugs, could potentially supercharge treatment for some of the most aggressive types of breast cancer.

“The researchers also identified the cells that give rise to breast cancer in women who carry a faulty BRCA1 gene and that an existing medication for osteoporosis could provide these patients with a non-surgical option for cancer prevention.

“Their dedication to breast cancer research since 1997 is now benefiting women in Victoria through early phase clinical trials,” he said.

Professor Visvader acknowledged the importance of team-work. “Geoff and I really have been very fortunate to work with exceptionally talented teams of scientists and collaborators. This award reflects their hard work and commitment,” she said.

Professor Lindeman, also a medical oncologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter Mac, said that sustained State Government support had helped to progress fundamental discoveries from the laboratory through to the clinic.

“Victorian Government support has over the course of our careers helped to advance basic research from the bench to the bedside,” Professor Lindeman said.

“Jane and I are passionate about developing more effective targeted therapies for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. We are humbled to receive this award, which highlights the importance of long-term investment in basic and translational research to improve the lives of people affected by cancer,” he said.

Professors Visvader and Lindeman’s research is supported by Australian Cancer Research Foundation and others.

This news was originally published on the WEHI website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at the Walter Hall and Eliza Institute by providing them with three grants totalling $5.5 million.

World’s biggest genetics study of breast cancer unearths 72 new genetic markers

breast cancer 72 new genetic markers

The world’s biggest ever genetic study of breast cancer has discovered 72 new genetic variants that put women at higher risk of the disease.

Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute co-led the major international collaboration, which collated and analysed data from 275,000 women across the globe.

The findings were today published in the journals Nature and Nature Genetics.

The coordinator of QIMR Berghofer’s Genetics and Computational Biology Department, Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench, said the study found 65 genetic variants that predispose women to the overall risk of breast cancer.

She said a further seven genetic variants were discovered that predispose women specifically to oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer, which often leads to poorer health outcomes because it does not respond to drugs like tamoxifen.

The discovery was made possible through collaboration between the Breast Cancer Association Consortium (BCAC) and the Consortium of Investigators of Modifiers of BRCA1/2 (CIMBA), which is led by Professor Chenevix-Trench.

“This work helps us to understand why some women are more at risk of developing breast cancer than others and what genetic markers we should be looking for in order to assess that risk,” Professor Chenevix-Trench said.

“We know that breast cancer is caused by complex interactions between these genetic variants and our environment, but these newly discovered markers bring the number of known variants associated with breast cancer to around 180.

“Our hope is that in future we will be able to test for these genetic variants in order to inform preventative approaches and treatment for women who may be at a higher risk of breast cancer.”

Professor Chenevix-Trench said the inherited component of breast cancer risk was due to a combination of rare variants in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that indicate a high risk of the disease, and genetic variants that confer only a small risk, as identified in the latest research.

QIMR Berghofer senior researcher Dr Jonathan Beesley said that one of the main findings in the Nature paper was that scientists can now predict which neighbouring genes the risk variants might act on.

He worked alongside colleagues at QIMR Berghofer, including Functional Cancer Genomics specialists Associate Professor Stacey Edwards and Associate Professor Juliet French, to conduct lab tests that confirmed some of these predictions.

“We were able to show for the first time that these risk genes are often the same ones that are mutated during the development of breast tumours, which tells us much more than we knew previously about the genetic mechanisms that may cause breast cancer,” Dr Beesley said.

“We think that this ability to pinpoint the genes associated with risk of breast cancer will eventually enable us to develop more effective screening interventions and even risk-reduction medications and treatments.”

Around 70 percent of all breast cancer is oestrogen-receptor positive, which means the cancer responds to the hormone oestrogen and helps the tumour to grow.

A smaller number of breast cancer cases are oestrogen-receptor negative, so they do not respond to oestrogen but respond to other mechanisms.

Professor Chenevix-Trench said a greater understanding of a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer may help to change the age at which that woman is offered mammogram screening.

“Many women are offered mammogram screening when they are middle-aged, but if we know a woman has genetic markers that place her at higher risk of breast cancer, we can recommend more intensive screening at a younger age,” she said.

The studies involved collaborators from 300 different institutions, including the University of Cambridge, University Laval in Quebec and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

This news was originally published on the QIMR Berghofer website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at QIMR Berghofer Medical Cancer Research Institute since 2002 when they were awarded the first of three grants totalling $6.7 million.

In full swing for the 2018 marathon

I’m Hannah, born in the UK, now an Australian citizen, and living near Canberra with my partner Trent and our rescue-shelter dog Odin. My current job brought me to Australia; I work as a Textile Conservator at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Art conservation is quite a unique profession that requires skills which ordinarily don’t go hand-in-hand: art and science.

Running in the London Virgin Money Marathon has been on my bucket list for a while. In 2016 I ran the Canberra Times Fun Run for ACRF, and then became interested in other sporting and fitness events where ACRF needed fundraisers. I find that being part of a wider fundraising group gives a real sense of achievement and meeting fundraising goals becomes less daunting.

I have a personal reason for wanting to raise money for cancer research. My family and I lost our much-loved and long-time friend Barry to cancer this year. As a teenager and university student in the UK, I earned extra money for school expenses by working in a restaurant with my mother’s best friend Sally and her husband, Barry. I had the dream job of making desserts, and Barry and I had all kinds of funny conversations while working together in the kitchen. Like many teenagers I also went through a tough phase with my parents and was quite rebellious. Barry and Sally would always drop me off at home after work shifts; they became my surrogate parents during that time. I will never forget the love, support and kindness they showed me.

The indiscriminate nature of cancer is heartbreaking. Of all the people in the world, Barry and Sally have been two of the most emotionally generous people you could ever wish to meet. Having spent their lives imagining they would grow old together, they have been ripped apart. Although our family is heartbroken, Barry’s death has brought us closer together and we are more appreciative and caring of one another than before.

As someone who works in the science field, I am always interested in new scientific developments. I want to raise funds to enable continued research and scientific breakthroughs as well as help people improve their chances of survival and limit the side effects of cancer treatments. Although it could be some time before cancer is eradicated, tangible progress is happening now. I recently visited the ACRF funded John Curtain School of Medical Research where pioneering researchers such as Prof. Ross Hannan and his team are making solid advances in cancer medicine and treatments. This is where I wanted my fundraising dollars to go.

My London 2018 fundraising campaign has come with its share of doubts. Will I make my fundraising goal? Will I be able to run the entire distance? Will people be interested or care about what I am doing? So far, I have been thrilled by the response to my fundraising efforts from so many generous people. The ACRF team is also fantastic with their continued support and encouragement.

Running in the 2018 London Marathon will not be for Barry alone. It will also be for my friends and colleagues who no longer have mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters because of cancer. Those gaps can never be filled.

 

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Improving outcomes for patients with a common type of blood cancer

Australian cancer research
Peter Mac’s Director of Haematology, Professor John Seymour

Using a second generation immunotherapy drug for the long-term management of a common type of blood cancer has been shown to give patients more durable control of their cancer. A clinical trial has shown patients who took the antibody drug Obinutuzumab together with and after their chemotherapy had a 34% reduced risk of their disease getting worse, over three years.

This was compared to our current standard therapy which instead uses the first generation version of a similar antibody drug Rituximab in the same manner.

The trial involved more than 1,200 patients – many treated at Peter Mac or Monash Health – with follicular lymphoma and a paper reporting the outcome is published online today by the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We know standard treatment with chemotherapy and an antibody can suppress cancer activity for several years but, for many patients, effectiveness will wane and a relapse will occur,” says co-researcher and Peter Mac’s Director of Haematology, Professor John Seymour.

“Broadly we are looking for ways to improve and extend the durability of this response and, in this clinical trial, we’ve identified a drug that does this and is already available and funded in Australia for a related disease, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.”

Obinutuzumab is already used to treat other types of blood cancer and, in follicular lymphoma and other non-Hodgkins lymphomas, it is used as a second-line treatment in cases where patients no longer respond to Rituximab.

The trial data supports Obinutuzumab’s use as the first-line treatment in follicular lymphoma.

Patients in the trial were split into two groups who received chemotherapy with an antibody drug and then ongoing antibody drug; either Rituximab (standard therapy) or Obinutuzumab. At follow-up three years later:

  • Progression-free survival was 73.3% in the standard therapy group, compared to 80% in the Obinutuzumab group.
  • The proportion of patients alive was 92.1% for standard therapy (46 deaths) compared to 94% in the Obinutuzumab group (35 deaths).
  • There were more high-grade adverse events in the Obinutuzumab group, but a similar frequency of fatal adverse events in each group.
  • The overall relative reduction of risk of cancer progression, or death, in the Obinutuzumab group was 34%.
  • Both Obinutuzumab and Rituximab are anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody drugs, an emerging new class of targeted immunotherapy drugs.

“This is a cancer we cannot yet cure but newly emerging immunotherapy drugs, used in conjunction with conventional chemotherapy, are giving us powerful new tools to extend patient lives,” says Prof Stephen Opat, from Monash Health, and who was also on the international clinical trial research team.

“This clinical trial data supports the use of Obinutuzumab as the first-line treatment in the immuno-chemotherapy and maintenance setting for previously untreated follicular lymphoma, as it would give patients a significant improvement in progression-free survival.”

The trial also involved researchers from the UK, Japan, Germany, Canada, Prague, Czech Republic and Switzerland.

This news was originally published on the Peter Mac website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre by providing three grants, totaling $7 million, towards cutting-edge cancer research equipment and technology.

Ashleigh’s Story

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My name is Ashleigh. I support the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and I am committed to doing what I can to end cancer.

In June 2015, I was 25 years old. I had just graduated from university and started my first full-time role as a lawyer. Everything seemed to be going according to plan…

Then one night, on a weekend away with my girlfriends, I felt a strange sensation in my throat and said so out loud. It was at that point one of my friends noticed that there was a visible lump on the side of my neck. I had no idea where it came from, or what it was, but I was pretty quick to assure her that it was nothing. Thankfully, she didn’t back down and made sure I went to the medical centre the next day.

One week later, the biopsy results arrived. The lump was cancerous and I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

For someone who had always planned their day down to the nth degree, my diagnosis came as a stark reminder that no one can ever really know what is around the corner for them. My diagnosis came at a time where everything in my life seemed to have finally clicked into the place that I had meticulously carved out. But, what I hadn’t planned for was processing a cancer diagnosis at 25.

I very quickly realised that cancer isn’t one of those things that you can predict and it isn’t something that you can immediately control. It doesn’t follow a script and it certainly doesn’t come with a manual. But what you can control, is the way you respond to it.

I also realised that many thousands of other Australian women face this life-altering reality every year and I was determined to change this

Thanks to the support of people like you and I, the survival rates for many types of cancer, including thyroid cancer, has increased by more than 20% over the past 30 years. That’s an incredible statistic – but it is also a fact. Cancer research breakthroughs are now happening at a faster rate than ever before because of our ongoing community support and advancements in scientific technology.

With this in mind, I wanted to do everything I could to help bring an end to all cancers. I approached the Australian Cancer Research Foundation with a small idea and it grew into something much, much bigger.

With their support and much planning, I hosted a charity black tie gala event called ‘Dinner for a Difference’ that raised over $26,000 for cancer research in June 2016.

By funding cancer research, we will get closer to a breakthrough that will change the way we think about cancer and the many lives that it continues to affect

When you donate to the Australian Cancer Research Foundation today, you give Australian cancer researchers access to the advanced technology they need to find better methods of prevention, detection and treatment for all the types of cancer that affect women.

None of us can know exactly what is around the next corner. But we can all take action today to help ready ourselves for whatever it is that we may find.

So, please join me in supporting the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, and a community that believes ending cancer is possible – because it absolutely is.

Please donate by 31 October to equip Australia’s best researchers with the tools they need to end all cancers that affect women.

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Daniella’s tea for tomorrow and ACRF

High tea for cancer research

It was my love of the magical world of tea that prompted me to start my own business, Amity Created. Tea has this amazing ability to create a sense of calm and peace in almost any situation. That same sense of calm and peace also reminds me of spending time with my beloved Nonna (grandmother).

Last year I held my first Tea for Tomorrow event in support of my grandmother who was in the midst of a long battle with cancer. In the spirit of Amity Created and my obsession with anything tea related, it made sense to host a high tea. From our pretty teacups and delicious teas to the beautiful cakes; everyone who attended was really spoilt on the day. The response from the public was overwhelming; people attended from interstate and we raised just over $2,000.

Tea for Tomorrow has now become a new tradition. This year’s event, held again in Sydney, also quickly sold out. We more than doubled our fundraising amount to $5000, and we doubled the number of sponsors, all of whom were amazingly generous. Yet again, we had people fly in from Queensland and Melbourne to attend. Everyone came with their own story of how cancer had impacted their lives in some way. It was a very empowering and inspiring feeling to be surrounded by these wonderful people. Although my Noona has passed away, I like to think she was with us at this year’s event, saluting with a cup of tea!

ACRF and its staff have been a wonderful support to me over the past few years. I am appreciative of their help in organising my first event to the very kind words they sent to my family when we were experiencing the grief that comes with losing someone we cherished.

When it comes to fundraising, I chose to support ACRF because of their sole focus on cancer research. There is nothing more gut-wrenching than hearing the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. Until research leads to a cure for all types of cancer, it is vitally important to continue fundraising and raising awareness. I encourage anyone else who is thinking of fundraising and who genuinely wants to make a difference to act without delay. Without the support of the wider community, cancer research won’t continue at its current pace and every step forward leads to progress.

 

2017 Amity Created Sponsors: Almond Breeze Australia, Tea at Henry’s, Zen Green Tea, The Love Letter Collective, La Vita E Dolce Biscotti, Glow by Beca, Healing Hands Message Therapy, Wanderluxe and Co, The Tea Nomad, The Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar, Vellaris Boutique, Soul and Ark, Just Glow, Loho Stationary, Frank Trimarchi – Photography, Tulloch Wines

 

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How we can overcome the lack of treatment options for rare cancers

Colman Taylor, University of Sydney and John Zalcberg, Monash University

Rare cancers are just that: rare. This means research into each of these particular types of rare cancers is limited, and so are the treatment options. As a consequence, patients diagnosed with rare cancers face significant challenges.

In November 2016, the Australian Senate established a select committee to examine funding for research into cancers with low survival rates. More recently, the health minister announced A$13 million from the Medical Research Future Fund will be used for clinical trials to help achieve better health outcomes for people with rare or uncommon cancers.

The minister also commissioned new work on evaluating cancer medicines that treat multiple tumours and have a specific genetic feature (biological marker). This could improve access to therapies that might benefit some patients with rare cancers.

These recent steps are in recognition of the significant challenges associated with undertaking research into rare cancers. By their nature, rare cancers include small and variable patient populations making gold-standard randomised trials challenging or even impossible.


Read more: Unfair if rare: should the PBS change the way it lists cancer drugs?


The lack of evidence resulting from few or no randomised trials creates challenges for registering and reimbursing new medicines. This ultimately leads to a lack of subsidised medicines for these patients. As a result, the improvements seen in patient outcomes related to new therapies for more common cancers like lung cancer, melanoma and bowel cancer over the last two decades do not extend to rare or less common cancers.

What is a rare cancer?

The definition of a rare cancer is debatable. The RARECARE collaboration in Europe uses an operational definition of fewer than six cases per year per 100,000 population. In Australia, the medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has recently updated the eligibility criteria for medicines treating rare diseases to fewer than five cases of the disease in a population of 10,000 people.

Historically cancers were categorised by the anatomical location, such as the breast or kidney. But with the discovery of new biological markers, common cancers can be grouped into smaller, more homogeneous and genetically similar subsets. So the number of rare cancers will continue to grow as medical technology advances.

Why don’t they have many available medications?

The lack of government-approved and subsidised medicines to treat rare cancers primarily stems from the lack of evidence supporting their use. Submissions to the current inquiry also cited problems such as a lack of research funding; the need for international collaboration; lack of investment by industry; attracting sufficient interest of researchers and recruiting sufficient patients.

It’s hard to recruit enough patients for research studies.
from www.shutterstock.com

Even if patients can be identified and recruited to a trial, it’s difficult to generate meaningful data from so few patients.

The lack of evidence presents challenges for new medicines trying to meet registration and reimbursement criteria in Australia. To be registered through the TGA, a new medicine must have demonstrated efficacy and safety.

In order for new medicines to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), it must have a demonstrated benefit over standard treatment, as well as being considered an efficient use of tax payer dollars.

New medicines for rare cancers are often expensive, especially when randomised trials are not possible.

What can we do to improve this situation?

With the changing nature of medicine and research, new opportunities are emerging to address the current inequity. The shift to treating patients based on the genetic profile of their tumour rather than the location of the cancer has increased treatment options for rare cancer patients.


Read more: How cancer doctors use personalised medicine to target variations unique to each tumour


To harness the benefits, changes are required with input from multiple stakeholders, including government, industry, clinicians, researchers and patients.

Better access to new medicines ultimately starts with better research. To achieve this, experts have called for additional targeted funding, innovative trial designs, and better partnerships between industry and researchers.

There is also the opportunity to collect better “real world” data via platforms such as the My Health Record, which could supplement existing research and allow performance monitoring of recently approved new medicines.

Organisations such as Rare Cancers Australia and the Cancer Drugs Alliance are liaising with government regarding changes that could improve access to novel medicines for patients with rare cancers. This includes greater input from patients and more flexibility in the way we evaluate medicines for public reimbursement.

The ConversationIt should also be recognised the problems faced in providing innovative treatments to patients with rare cancer extends to rare diseases in general. With modern medicine providing the potential to improve outcomes for patients with rare cancers as well as other serious chronic diseases, we need to have a broader conversation about what we can afford and what we are willing to pay for new medicines.

Colman Taylor, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, The George Institute; Conjoint Senior Lecturer, UNSW; Owner and Director, Health Technology Analysts, University of Sydney and John Zalcberg, Head, Cancer Research Program, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Jess shaves her head for cancer research

My name is Jess and when I was 14 years old, my mum was diagnosed and successfully treated for breast cancer. Eleven years later, Mum was diagnosed with metastatic (secondary) breast cancer, which really took her by surprise, being unaware that this could occur after being in the clear for so long. Mum is such a strong and brave woman, and someone that I look up to. I am determined to fight this battle with her, every step of the way, and getting behind cancer research is one way I can help to make a difference.

In taking on a fundraiser event, I decided to shave my head for donations. I haven’t had short hair since primary school so it was very long! I knew it would be a nerve-racking event but would also be my special way of supporting Mum as she is going through cancer treatment and experiencing hair loss. After doing some research on how my hair could be used, I decided to donate it for children who also experience hair loss. Hopefully, it will make a great wig for someone!

The whole experience of fundraising for ACRF was extremely rewarding, and the amount of support and love received from so many was overwhelming. Taking on my own fundraiser event has also inspired others to do the same. For example, a friend of mine is now hosting her own head shave fundraiser. The most important step in planning for a fundraiser is making sure you give yourself enough time to brainstorm ideas, including with others who have hosted similar events. If I didn’t have the support from friends, family, work colleagues, ACRF and local businesses, my event would not have been possible.

So many lives continued to be affected by cancer and when you see the suffering of others, especially those close to you, it encourages you to want to strive toward making a difference and support cancer research.

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Janet gets clipped at fundraising event

I am 65 years old and ready for retirement this year. I’ve been working since age 15 so it’s time! My current employer is Bunnings, and the company team was great in supporting my fundraising efforts this year.

My motivation for raising money for cancer research is one that’s close to home. Two young members of my family have been diagnosed with cancer since 2015. When my sister’s daughter, Kylie, was discovered to have ovarian cancer, the cancer was already advanced and classified as terminal; her prognosis was 12 months, at best. Kylie went ahead with her 30th birthday celebrations in February 2016 just prior to having chemotherapy treatment and surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible and to improve her level of comfort. After several weeks of recovery in hospital, she returned home and then passed away two weeks later while sleeping next to her beloved husband. My niece had known about her cancer for less than six months.

The family is also supporting my brother’s daughter, Leanne, while she fights bowel cancer. Her outlook is encouraging, having reacted really well to chemotherapy treatment. There were shadows on her lungs and liver where the cancer spread, but surgery has successfully removed lung tumours destroyed by the chemotherapy. We are hopeful it will be the same outcome with her liver. Leanne is 35 years old with a wonderful husband and two young children.

When I decided to go ahead with fundraising, I was very overdue for a haircut so shaving my head seemed the best way to go. Bunnings let me use their public BBQ area for the event. Several of my co-workers gave up their rostered day off and along with my family cooked and served the BBQ, sold at the cake stall and mixed with the Bunnings customers who stopped to see what was going on. The amount of donated jams, pickles, relish, cakes and biscuits was astounding and well received by the customers, making over $600 in that area alone. The Bunnings Manager, Damian, cut my hair the same way he does his own – short and with clippers. The whole day was really great, a wonderful atmosphere, fantastic customer attendance and successful with approximately $2700 raised altogether.

Fundraising for cancer research is something we can all do – there is strength in numbers. Being able to do something that will assist in the discovery of a cancer cure is well worth while.

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Brent in endurance competition for ACRF

I’ve been involved in Surf Life Saving since age eight and played sport my whole life so it was a natural to get involved in Coolangatta Gold, the ultimate endurance race in surf sports. I have competed numerous times, three years taking out the 30-39 age group, and runner-up twice. This year’s Coolangatta Gold for me will be unique in two ways. I plan to push the boundaries a little further by taking part in both the 21 km course and 41.8 km course, and I’ll be fundraising for ACRF. My goal is to raise $10,000 and generous donations have already pushed that goal over the half-way mark.

I have known many people over the years who have been affected by cancer; most recently a good mate’s daughter had a tough fight with cancer. Myself and others felt helpless, so I had been wondering just how I could support my friend and others. I believe that kind of support is best represented by ACRF and their ongoing cancer research. Research not only assists in treatment advances; it will ultimately result in a cure for all cancers.

I’m sure there are people who think it’s crazy to take on two races in the same weekend and in reality that is probably true. Thankfully, my wife, family, friends, coaches and colleagues have been truly supportive, which helps me to forget about the cold mornings paddling in winter, being tired and having sore muscles. I don’t believe anyone has done both courses on the same weekend so this is my chance of pushing myself to achieve it.

My two-year-old daughter won’t remember her Dad’s efforts in this year’s competition, but I do hope she has the opportunity to remember a long lifetime – free of cancer.

 

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Girls with curls fundraise for cancer research

We are four aqua aerobic friends, the Curly Girls. Sadly, cancer has impacted all of us in some way – family members, colleagues and friends. If we are to lessen cancer’s grip on us, it means continued research and the cost of that is enormous, well beyond government funding and grants. We wanted to help out and decided to fundraise for ACRF by holding a head shave event. The Curly Girls would become the Baldy Babes!

In planning our event, we decided to think big and involve the whole community of Sussex Inlet. We canvassed local shops and businesses seeking donations of raffle prizes and BBQ supplies and lined up volunteers to help out on the day. The event was held for three hours on a Saturday to coincide with our local market that is always popular and draws extra people into town. There was a coin toss, golf putting competition, door prizes, wig library demo, raffle draw, and entertainment by local musicians. Everyone in the community was enormously supportive and our head shave day raised over $11,000. There are many memorable highlights: the buzz on the day, the personal stories shared by raffle ticket purchasers and the hugs that followed, the generosity of anonymous donors, the many friends and people in the community who gave their time, money and support without hesitation, and of course the excitement of having raised such a sizeable amount of money.

We love our new less hair look and some of us are thinking how easy care it is. Our friends, family, and people on the street are having fun sharing comments as our hair slowly grows back.

We’re proud of our fundraising achievement, and we had a great time doing it. To anyone else planning a similar event, our advice would be to give yourself time to plan – we took 10 weeks – and don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Plan to print and sell raffle tickets, plan an event schedule for the day, do a test run, and then plan some more. After all, you want the best opportunity possible to raise funds on the day.
Kerrie, Kim, Denise & Pam

 

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Scott is shaving his beard for cancer research

Australia cancer researchMy mother was Dawn by name and Dawn by nature. She shone every day and had an amazing ability to turn our world into a brighter place. Losing her this year was the single most devastating thing to happen in my life.

I am 37, an only child, and fortunate to have always enjoyed a wonderful relationship with my parents. The three of us have done everything together, including working in the marketing and creative agency that I started in 2000.

Mum was a remarkably selfless person. She saw the good in everyone and everything, giving her love freely and openly. Mum battled rheumatoid arthritis for over 50 years and to also be diagnosed with cancer was doubly harsh, but she remained resolutely strong.

Because Mum never really liked my beard, and certainly wouldn’t as long as it is now, it’s a gesture to her and to honour the way she approached life that I’ve decided to shave it off and fundraise for cancer research. Even before Mum knew she was ill, I had thought about fundraising but didn’t act on it. My advice now to anyone, who wants to fundraise, is to stop just thinking about it and get started! You will be amazed by the support you’ll receive from people when you put it out there.

My fundraising goal is $10,000, and I’m working hard to achieve that amount – and more – for the researchers determined to find the answer to cancer. While my Mum initially contracted breast cancer, she passed away from secondary cancer to the liver. Finding the answers to one type of cancer will help to unlock the key to another. It’s vitally important to continue supporting research into this horrible disease so that a cure will be discovered.

There are a lot of people who can’t wait to see my beard of three years gone, or who are just curious about what my chin looks like these days! Even those who don’t want me to shave it off totally understand the cause and support me because they know how special Mum will always be for me.

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New drug to supercharge immune cells in the fight against cancer

Australia Cancer Research
The vascular team at the Harry Perkins Institute, Image courtesy of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

A new cancer treatment with the dual ability to normalise tumour blood vessels and boost the body’s immune system, has been developed by researchers from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia.

Many tumours can become resistant to the body’s immune system by creating a barrier of tangled blood vessels that feed the tumour while locking out immune cells that would attack cancer cells.

Professor Ruth Ganss, head of the Perkins Cancer and Cell Biology Division, said the new treatment worked by generating more “normal” blood vessels and lymph-node-like structures within the cancer, which together enabled immune cells to better reach the cancer core.

“Lymph nodes, a vital component of our immune system, normally only exist outside of the cancer and work to filter cancer cells and generate white blood cells that fight infection,” Professor Ganss said.

“Our drug strengthens the immune response against tumours by inducing these lymph-node-structures together with normalised blood vessels, producing immune cells that infiltrate deep into the cancer. There are currently no single treatments available which can produce these two features in cancers.”

“Our research shows that once our drug has triggered the lymph-node-structures within the cancer, current immunotherapies that have been approved for clinical use, can work more effectively,” Professor Ganss said.
“We’ve tested our treatment on pancreas and lung cancer models, which are particularly difficult to treat, and have had very promising results.”

“We envision that a combination of our drug and existing immunotherapies, will greatly enhance the outcomes for patients in the future.”

Perkins Director, Professor Peter Leedman, said the treatment was a novel approach to overcome the challenge that occurs when tumours become resistant to the body’s immune system.

“Immunotherapy is an exciting new area of research, whereby the immune system is amplified to support the body’s natural defenses to help fight cancer,” Professor Leedman said.

“Professor Ganss and her team are building on this groundbreaking work, to develop combination therapies that could deliver the best outcomes for patients.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Immunology.

This news was originally published on the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research by providing two grants, totalling $3.6 million, towards cutting-edge cancer research equipment and technology.

QLD jewellers do charity run for ACRF

Charity fundraising event

Original story written by Talia Paz for Jeweller Magazine

Two Queensland jewellers have completed the Sydney Running Festival in an effort to raise money for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) and pay tribute to a sales representative who passed away earlier this year.

House of Harvey jewellery store owners, Alannah and Bob Harvey, participated in the running event on Sunday 17 September and have so far raised $2,750 for ACRF in 2017.

The Ingham-based retailer has supported the cancer research foundation for many years; however, Alannah said the 2017 fundraising efforts were in honour of Mike Griese, a sales rep for Ikecho Pearls, Jewellery Centre, Imajpack and AM Imports who lost his battle with cancer in March.

“We have always supported cancer research; having lost family, and with a team member’s survival from cervical cancer, it is the best ‘fit’ for our store,” Alannah explained.

“After Mike Griese lost his battle, we felt compelled in 2017 to honour him, another life cut too short,” she added.

Alannah said the Sydney Running Festival was an ideal way to generate industry support for the retailer’s charity efforts and increase customer relationships.

“It’s a high-profile event with many spectators and national media coverage, and therefore is a great platform for ACRF to create awareness, recruit participants for vital funding for cancer research and showcase achievements,” she explained.

“It also gives us a fundraising platform for our clients – who support us each and every year – to regularly see just how a little effort can achieve great results.”

Industry support

Alannah said her store’s ACRF fundraising initiatives would continue through to Christmas, noting that several suppliers including the Jewellery Centre and Adina Watches had also supported the business’ efforts.

She stated that there were additional industry benefits to promoting charitable causes.

“We believe today perhaps more than ever, the public seeks businesses that have a social conscience,” Alannah explained.

“The opportunities are there for all of us in retail to contribute to society by simply being a little creative every time we run a promotion, and it is our philosophy that most of the public appreciate that a business is constantly working to assist ‘something’; they feel apart of it, and they get a bonus in return.”

ACRF was established in 1984 and aims to end cancer by providing scientists with the equipment required to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Founded in 2001, the Sydney Running Festival is conducted by non-profit organisation Athletics Australia.

The event supports numerous national-based charities and has raised more than $16.9 million since its inception.

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Melbourne teenager makes generous donation to ACRF

Hello, my name is Ben. I am 13, attend McKinnon Secondary College, like hanging out with my friends, watching classic films – my favourite is No Country for Old Men – and listening to music.

I also had my Bar Mitzvah celebration this year, which is quite an important occasion. It’s traditional for family members and friends attending the ceremony to give gifts, and I ended up receiving a generous amount of money. At first I really couldn’t think of what to do with all of it. Sure, I could have bought some expensive clothes and other stuff which I probably don’t need, but then I got to thinking about one of my favourite musicians, George Harrison, who died of cancer. That’s when I decided to make a donation towards cancer research.

I read somewhere that 8.2 million people die of cancer related deaths each year, and like everyone, I want to see that number at zero. I know that ACRF is funding cancer research and researchers are getting closer every day to finding the cure for many cancers, so my donation will hopefully help make that happen a little faster.

To anyone thinking of fundraising or making a donation to cancer research, I have to say, 100% you should do it. If you can donate to research, you are pretty much closer to helping save people’s lives.

Surprise discovery to help those with prostate cancer

Cancer researcher Dr Katherine Morel Flinders University
Dr Katherine Morel, image courtesy of the Flinders Foundation

 

A surprise discovery by researchers at Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer is giving hope for men with the most aggressive and incurable form of prostate cancer.

Two years ago, a Flinders University research team led by Professor Pam Sykes started investigating how parthenolide – a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory compound found in feverfew daisies – could aid radiotherapy by attacking tumours while also protecting nearby heathy cells, potentially increasing survival rates while also helping to eliminate the nasty and debilitating side effects of radiotherapy.

Further research has demonstrating that Parthenolide may also have the ability to prevent aggressive and incurable metastatic prostate cancer.

“When we started this research, we were really just focusing on using parthenolide in radiotherapy, but this side-project looking at slowing down tumour progression evolved and has been a bit of a surprise,” says Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC) postdoctoral researcher Dr Katherine Morel from the Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health.

“Many men with localised prostate cancer can live for a long time, but when the cancer becomes metastatic – meaning it spreads from the prostate to other parts of the body – unfortunately it’s incurable,” she says.

Part-funded by Flinders Foundation, preliminary results of the latest research have shown slower tumour growth and a reduction in metastatic tumours when treated with dimethylaminoparthenolide (DMAPT), a water-soluble version of parthenolide.

“When combined with radiotherapy, the drug induces greater cancer killing, particularly targeting high-grade tumours which tend to metastasise,” Ms Morel says.

“If we could give it to men with early stage prostate cancer, or men who may be more susceptible to prostate cancer, then it may have the potential to reduce the severity of the cancer or even reduce metastasis all together.”

The latest research holds great hope for the thousands of men who will be diagnosed in future.

“Science is long-haul and it can take time to see results – the work that’s now emerged on metastatic tumours has far and away exceeded what we expected to find.”

Dr Morel has been collaborating with Professor Christopher Sweeney from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston, who is currently testing parthenolide in leukaemia clinical trials.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men.

While significant improvements have been made in prostate cancer therapy, there is still a need for novel treatment options, particularly for preventing and treating metastatic prostate cancer which has a very poor prognosis, and for protecting from unwanted debilitating side effects of radiotherapy due to damage done to healthy tissues near the prostate.

“When delivered prior to radiation, DMAPT was able to reduce cell death in healthy cells during radiotherapy while also increasing prostate cancer killing particularly in more advanced regions of prostate cancer, providing the potential to increase cure rates,” she says.

“Analysis of the prostate tumours identified important molecules involved in the mechanism of parthenolide protection, which support the potentially broader application of DMAPT for a number of different cancer types.”

The research was published earlier this year in the journal Radiation Research.

This news was originally published on the Flinders University website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Flinders University by providing a $1 million grant towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

Stef is losing her locks to fundraise for research

Australia cancer research

I admit to being completely obsessed with my hair – it’s my crown and a huge expression of my personality. I also love unicorns and unicorn coloured things, which explains why my hair is dyed in ever-changing bright colours. Despite the hair fascination, I decided to shave it off when a really close friend of mine was recently diagnosed with brain cancer and started chemotherapy. If she was going to lose her hair during treatments, mine could go as well. I didn’t want her going through the experience alone.

I was apprehensive about my decision but any doubts vanished after one of my lovely work colleagues shared her hair loss experience while receiving cancer treatment. She was on a weekend away with her husband for his birthday when all of her hair fell out. I could only imagine how confronting and distressing that would have been for her. While I can choose to lose my hair, and when, she couldn’t.

Like so many others, my family and friends have been affected by cancer; we’ve lost one of my aunties and my Noona to cancer and my best friend’s mother and sister have both died of cancer. Fundraising for ACRF and cancer research is my way of giving back to a community that dedicates so much time and effort into finding a cure for all forms of this horrible disease.

I have been really thrilled by the big-hearted support and encouragement received from my co-workers, local businesses, ACRF, and my family and friends. Since starting my fundraising page, I have received several generous donations, including from people who have never met me. And, retailer Peter Alexander sent a plush stuffed unicorn for my unicorn themed party on the night of the big shave – just one week before my 26th birthday.

The world needs more doers. I’m really stoked that I’m making a difference and hopefully taking ACRF one step closer to finding an end to all cancers.

Zero Childhood Cancer national clinical trial launched

Personalised treatment for childhood cancers in Australia is a step closer thanks to the Zero Childhood Cancer program’s national clinical trial launched today.

ACRF is one of the founding funders of the Zero Childhood Cancer Project, a $1.5 million grant was awarded to the project in 2014.

The trial will see scientists from thirteen leading Australian and international research institutes and doctors from all eight of Australia’s kids’ cancer centres will work together to identify and recommend new treatment options. These will be specifically tailored to suit the individual cancers of children with the highest risk of treatment failure or relapse.

The Zero Childhood Cancer program recognises that each child’s cancer is unique, so they respond differently to anti-cancer treatment. Detailed laboratory analysis of tumour samples will help identify the drugs most likely to kill each child’s specific cancer.

Pilot study paves way for national launch

The national clinical trial builds on a successful NSW pilot study of nearly 60 children begun in late 2015 for children with the most aggressive cancers whose chance of survival on standard treatments was less than 30%.

The pilot study proved the program’s feasibility, successfully putting in place the complex logistics and laboratory testing needed to analyse patient tumours and get meaningful results back to doctors in real-time.

The clinical trial expands the program to give hope to families across the country and will enrol more than 400 Australian children over the next three years, bringing the most advanced diagnostic technologies close to home.

Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute and Research Lead for Zero Childhood Cancer, said the pilot study showed the urgent need for personalised medicine.

“Originally this pilot study was planned for 12 young patients. However nearly 60 children have been enrolled in the program due to the high demand by clinicians and parents.

What’s next?

Professor Haber said personalised treatment gives kids with the most aggressive cancers the best chance of surviving their disease because it is based on reliable scientific information, such as individual genetic mutations, unique to that child’s cancer.

“Using the latest molecular profiling techniques and laboratory testing of patient cancer cells with anti-cancer drugs, Zero Childhood Cancer will give the most detailed diagnosis possible in Australia to date for children with the most aggressive cancers. It is one of the most complex and comprehensive personalised medicine programs in the world,” she said.

Another benefit of personalised medicine is the potential to refine or change an individual child’s cancer subtype. Cancer diagnoses may be changed once detailed genetic and other molecular tests are done, opening up new treatment options. Several children on the pilot study had changed diagnoses as a result of detailed testing.

A/Professor Tracey O’Brien, Director of the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, said targeted therapies such as those identified through Zero Childhood Cancer will allow a much more sophisticated approach.

“The information we gather will benefit children on the program first and foremost but will also be incorporated into future front-line treatments. The knowledge gained is likely to unlock further scientific discoveries that will also ultimately benefit future patients.  Most of all, it will bring us a step closer to our vision of one day curing all children of cancer.”

The Zero Childhood Cancer initiative will be led by Children’s Cancer Institute and The Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick, part of The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. Participating hospitals and research centres in this collaborative national project include a number of previous ACRF grant recipients:

NSW

  • Children’s Cancer Institute (Program research leaders)
  • Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (Program clinical leaders)
  • The Children’s Hospital at Westmead
  • John Hunter Children’s Hospital
  • Kids Research Institute, Westmead
  • Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics, Garvan Institute of Medical Research
  • The ACRF International Centre for the Proteome of Cancer (ProCan), Children’s Medical Research Institute, Westmead

QLD

  • Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital
  • University of Queensland Diamantina Institute

SA

  • Women’s and Children’s Hospital
  • South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute
  • Centre for Cancer Biology

VIC

  • Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
  • Monash Children’s Hospital
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne
  • Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

WA

  • Princess Margaret Hospital (moving to Perth Children’s Hospital)
  • Telethon Kids Cancer Centre, Telethon Kids Institute

Any interested parents of children with cancer should contact their child’s paediatric oncologist in the first instance.

Children's cancer

Image: Minister Greg Hunt MP with a young cancer patient and their family. Photo courtesy of Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.

New bioinformatics tool to improve the early detection of cancer

Matcol is a bioinformatics tool which helps determine protein and DNA co-localisations visualised using fluorescence microscopy. Co-localization is the observation of the spatial overlap between two or more different fluorescent labels and their biological interaction –  this process allows cancer researchers to see whether a protein of interest is in proximity to cancer marker proteins.

Previously, most scientists used image analysis software to manually perform co-localization identification.Yet the challenge with manual co-localization quantification is that it’s subjective, prone to human error, and takes longer to perform.

Dr Khushi told the Daily Telegraph, “Single image analysis takes up many hours and scientists are required to study a large cohort of images.”

This pioneering development can replace manual co-localisation counting, and be applied to a wide range of biological areas including cancer detection.

MatCol automates this quantification task and can quantify hundreds of images automatically within a few minutes,” Dr Khushi said.

With MatCol’s automation and more streamlined processing, scientists can identify cancer in its early stages—allowing for early medical intervention and the potential to save lives.

This news was first published on CMRI’s website.

In 2015, ACRF  awarded one of the largest private grants for medical research equipment in Australian history – $10 million – for six cutting-edge machines to establish The ACRF International Centre for the Proteome of Cancer (ProCanTM) at Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) in Westmead. The Centre was officially opened in September 2016.

Image: Dr Dr Matloob Khushi, image supplied by CMRIDr Matloob Khushi, postdoctoral researcher at Children’s Medical Research Institute, has developed a new bioinformatics tool to improve early detection of cancer.

Cell surface receptors guide immune cell attacks

Researchers at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) have discovered how immune cells use a unique set of assembly instructions to ‘mix and match’ how they respond to, and kill, tumour and diseased cells.

Cell surface receptors form groups that the body assembles using different molecular combinations, much like logo blocks. These combinations guide how the immune cell acts when it makes contact with a cancerous cell, an infection, or other external signals.

The new research identifies the features that allow these pieces to assemble in specific combinations. Understanding how these groups assemble naturally could pave the way for future improvements in immunotherapy, such as engineering cancer-specific immune killers.

How do cell surface receptors work?

Cell surface receptor groups consist of an external receptor that binds to signalling molecules, an internal molecule that instructs the cell how to respond, and a cell membrane-embedded portion that anchors and links the other two segments.

In the past, these cell membrane-embedded sections of the receptor were largely ignored, partly because they are so difficult to work with, said Associate Professor Matthew Call at WEHI.

Associate Professor Call said the team discovered an entirely new set of assembly instructions used by molecular sensors embedded in the thin fatty cell membrane to build receptor complexes in response to different stimuli.

“Effectively, these membrane-bound sensors determine ‘who’ the immune cell talks to. This is really important in the promising field of cancer immunotherapy, because it could help us better engineer cells to specifically talk to – and destroy – cancer cells,” Associate Professor Matthew Call said.

The new findings

The researchers began by studying the receptors on natural killer (NK) cells, but found that the same assembly instructions were used in a host of immune cells that “run around and eat and blow up” cancerous and other diseased cells, Dr Melissa Call at WEHI said.

“One subset of these receptors, called Fc receptors, were the focus of this research. We were particularly looking at the subset of Fc receptors found on natural killer (NK) cells – immune cells that poison tumour and virus-infected cells that have been ‘marked’ by antibodies,” Dr Melissa Call said.

She said the study showed that different subsets of Fc receptors used completely different assembly instructions compared to other, similar receptors.

“Over the past decade or so, this has become really important therapeutically because of a new field of cancer immunotherapy called chimeric antigenic receptor therapy, or CART,” Dr Melissa Call said.

“The idea of CART is that you create specially engineered receptors in immune cells that are highly specific for an individual cancer. Understanding in depth how these receptors are assembled naturally is vital for us to understand how best to design them ourselves for cancer therapy, to look at improved ways of stimulating the immune response to cancer.”

The finding were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The news was first published on the institute’s website.

ACRF has supported WEHI by providing three grants, totalling AUD 5.5 million towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

Image: ‘T-cell receptors interact with MHC class II antigen complexes’ from istockphoto for illustrative purposes only.

Samantha is taking part in Blackmores Sydney Running Festival 2017

Australia cancer research

Honestly, I have never been interested in running a marathon but after the recent loss of two very special people, I wanted to do something to raise money for cancer research.

My god-daughter Jessica passed away at age four last year, after months of treatment for neuroblastoma. My Grandad Graham also died, and very suddenly, with lung cancer being a contributing factor. Both of them lived in the UK, which was my home before moving to Australia three years ago to take a job in the banking industry.

The impact of cancer is huge. I see how my friend Nicki struggles every day, having lost her daughter, and my own family was shattered by the death of my Grandad.

I cherish memories of Jessica and it’s sad to know that Aunty Sammie, as she called me, will never be able to build the relationship I really wanted to have with my only god-daughter.

My grandfather and I were very close and there are so many wonderful memories of times we spent together. He was a very patient man which was undoubtedly tested while teaching me how to drive a car, and he was an enthusiastic football fan, convincing me to support his favourite association club.

When thinking about the many options for fundraising, nothing stood out that would challenge me to push out of my comfort zone. At the same time, I also wanted to highlight the importance of on-going fundraising for cancer research. One of my work colleagues suggested running in a marathon – a suggestion that I entertained for about five minutes before dismissing it as too hard. It took me about a week to come to the conclusion that any pain that I would encounter in distance running would only be a shadow to what Jessica felt on a daily basis while trying to beat cancer.

I started off unable to run 5 km and now my longest distance has been 35 km. It’s thrilling to come so far in so little time.

I chose to support ACRF at the Blackmores running festival after learning that ACRF have a panel of medical advisors that ensure funding is provided to the most promising research initiatives. Those researchers need funding to work out the combined clues that will eventually end this disease.

I am probably a bit addicted to running now. It’s not just the mental and physical challenges, it also really shows how much you want to raise money to support this cause. Memories of Jessica and my Grandad will be with me every running step of the big race on 17 September.

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Potential treatment for brain cancer as drug shrinks tumours

An international team of researchers has found a drug previously approved to treat breast cancer could also be used to shrink medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumour found in children.

The discovery, made by The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, has led to a clinical trial using the drug palbociclib to treat children with medulloblastoma.

Professor Brandon Wainwright from University of Queensland said brain tumours were the most common cause of cancer death in infants, children and adolescents. And, even survivors can end up with significant long-term side effects from existing treatments.

“Clearly, we need new therapies that increase survival of young patients and reduce the side effects they suffer, such as delays in brain development, growth problems and increased risk of other cancers,” Professor Wainwright said.

Genetic code leads to remarkable discovery

Fellow UQ researcher Dr Laura Genovesi examined the genetic code of medulloblastoma to predict whether these tumours may respond to already-approved drugs.

“This analysis led us to believe that palbociclib, an oral drug approved in 2015 for the treatment of breast cancer, would be effective against medulloblastoma,” Dr Genovesi said.

“We expected that palbociclib would arrest the growth of medulloblastoma, but we were stunned to find that it went a step further and actually shrank the tumours to a size where survival is possible.”

“The finding is remarkable since the tumours were very advanced and were treated for only a short period of time and we did not use any other therapy such as chemotherapy in combination.

“Some tumours recurred once treatment with palbociclib stopped, probably due to resistant cells within the tumour.

“It means that palbociclib, or drugs like it, could be used against medulloblastoma in combination with other drugs to treat resistant cells.

“If the clinical trial is successful, it would represent a major step forward to taking this research from the genome to the clinic.”

The study is published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

The research was supported by many American and Australian organisations. The news was first published on the UQ website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at IMB by providing four grants, totalling AUD $7.1 million, for the purchase of cutting edge research equipment and technology.

Image: Courtesy of IMB UQ

Cooper Rice-Brading

Australia cancer research

Sarcoma claims the lives of two in five people with this cancer. Hope lies in research, which will aim to significantly increase the prospects of survival for adolescents and young adults.

Eighteen-year-old Cooper, will leave the Sydney Grammar School gates for one final time on Friday 1 September 2017, but not as an HSC student with his life ahead of him, but instead, surrounded by many family and friends, who are left broken hearted at his passing. He lost a protracted battle with osteosarcoma on Thursday, 24 August 2017, in the arms of his loving family, and life will never be the same for those left devastated by his passing.

As were Cooper’s wishes, his family, Mitchell, Colin and Tania will continue the meaningful work of their son Cooper, through the Cooper Rice-Brading Foundation, for sarcoma research. Cooper identified the need for critical research for this cancer, very early in his treatment regime. He spent the past eighteen months passionately telling his story, in order to raise awareness and funding, so other adolescents did not have to suffer his plight.

In lieu of floral tributes, the family have asked if you may consider donating to the Australian Cancer Research Fund (ACRF), to facilitate the critical research required to prevent another adolescent needlessly losing their life to sarcoma.

 

Donate now

Zoë’s Story

 

My name is Zoë and I’m writing to you because I believe in a world without cancer is possible. But it will not be possible without your help.

To me, actions speak volumes. There are times when cancer can make us feel powerless, but I’ve chosen to take action.

I wanted to share my story with you, because like me, I know that you want to see an end to all cancers. In December 2013, my father Ron was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma. I don’t remember a lot about the moment we found out, except that I was with my parents in the oncologist’s office and he told us it was rare. When you stop and think, you realise not a single person goes through life without being impacted by cancer – either through a friend, family member or by experiencing it themselves.

So I am asking you to please help me fund the technology researchers need to stop this suffering.

My dad did everything he could to beat his cancer over the next three years. It was hard work and he had set backs – including a heart failure, multiple infections and countless trips to the ER. And to his dismay, his golf game got much worse. But the treatment was working and his tumour went from 119mm to nothing. We had been celebrating a year of remission for my dad when I got married in July 2016. He was in good spirits.

But we all know that with cancer things change quickly and without notice.

The day after my wedding, dad told me he had relapsed. The cancer was in a new spot and it was aggressive. He had known for two weeks – in fact he found out on my birthday. My father loved his family so much so that when faced with heartbreaking news that required unrelenting support towards him, he buried it, gave me away, delivered a beautiful speech and danced and mingled the night away. When he told me, I cried. I sobbed actually. It turns out you can never feel comfortable about defeating cancer. It is a beast and it’s not polite about when or where it will occur. It is the worst house guest and it is never, ever invited. Once I finished crying, my thoughts went to my parents who had to stump up and do this again. My dad had good days, bad days and damn ugly days. There were days when he wanted to eat super foods, drink super drinks and exercise. And there were days when he just wanted to hide, when he was angry and absolutely deflated, when no one could say anything to make it better. He lived as best he could, inside hospital walls and even with a drip attached to him.

My mother (pictured above with my dad and their granddaughter) had one of the hardest jobs of any of us. They had been married for 48 years, they were best friends. But you cannot deny that cancer changes a relationship; they became comrades, standing side by side every day.

What I would love is for us, as a community, to remember that everyday there are people and families around us who are struggling with this.

Cancer changes the way people interact with you. It makes people uncomfortable – cancer patients look different and they look unwell. Friends can go missing for a period of time too. When times are hardest, it is the patient in the middle of it with their family, and a small handful of friends, who stand on the edges for support. Sometimes you don’t know what support you need, sometimes you just need someone to hold you up.

In September 2016, my father died. It is hard. There is no amount of time between dad’s death that will make it easier or less present for me.

That person has gone and naturally there is a huge hole in my life. I will always miss him. Every memory of my dad is clearer than it was when he was alive. Everything that I knew he loved is even more present in my days. There is no getting over it, there is simply taking steps forward knowing I have his spirit with me. I think we need to support each other in this community in whatever way we can. Together we can make life better for those who are living with cancer.

If you feel like I do, and you want to make sure that no one else has to experience the pain and heartache of cancer in the future, join me to give Australia’s best researchers the tools they need to end cancer.

The sum of what you give doesn’t matter, what matters is the sum of people who give. Together we can change the future. We can create a world without cancer.

Please donate by September 30th. Your donation will go directly to cancer research.

Study confirms: Over 90 per cent of cervical cancers are preventable by vaccination

Up to 93 per cent of cervical cancers in Australia could be prevented by a new HPV vaccination, and researchers hope one day vaccination will almost entirely eradicate the disease.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers in Melbourne have taken an in-depth look at a large number of cervical cancer samples to determine the types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cancer in Australian women.

The results show that 77 per cent of cervical cancers in Australian women carry the HPV types 16 and 18, which the current quadrivalent HPV vaccine (Gardasil) protects against. This is higher than the international prevalence of 71 per cent.

The study further identified that 16 per cent of Australian cancers contain the next five most common cancer-causing types globally (types 31, 33. 45, 52 and 58), which a new HPV vaccine would protect against. The new vaccine is currently under consideration for use in the Australian National HPV Vaccination Program.

HPV is a group of viruses mainly transmitted through sexual contact and most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity. A small number of those infected will go onto to develop abnormal cells that are the precursor to cervical cancer.

Published in the International Journal of Cancer, the collaborative study was led by the Royal Women’s Hospital and Victorian Cytology Service (VCS), in partnership with expert cancer pathology laboratories in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Lead author Associate Professor Julia Brotherton, Medical Director of Australia’s National HPV Vaccination Program Register at VCS, said the findings were “great news for our daughters and all young Australian women”.

“This study highlights that the new HPV vaccine yet to be released in Australia could prevent over 90 per cent of cervical cancers, which is an incredibly exciting prospect,” Prof Brotherton said.

Director of the Royal Women’s Hospital Centre for Infectious Diseases and study senior author Professor Suzanne Garland said the research confirmed that girls who are vaccinated against HPV with the new vaccine should have a very high level of protection against cervical cancer, and that one day this could potentially mean women need to screen less often.

“The new vaccine still protects against genital warts but is expanded to cover the seven most common viral types that cause cervical cancer. I do believe that if we continue with this high coverage of vaccination, we could almost wipe out cervical cancer in women,” she said.

The outcome of a Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) review of the new vaccine is scheduled for release mid-August. If recommended, the vaccine could become part of the National HPV Vaccination Program as early as next year.

The study Looking beyond human papillomavirus (HPV) genotype 16 and 18: defining HPV genotype distribution in cervical cancers in Australia prior to vaccination was jointly authored by Prof Brotherton and the Women’s Dr Sepehr Tabrizi.

This news article was first posted on The Royal Women’s Hospital Victoria website.

Will attempts to break Guinness World Record at Blackmores Running Festival

Australia cancer researchWill Bond took on the 2017 City2Surf, running 14km in a full Chinese Lion Dance costume raising over $5,000 for cancer research.

Now, Will is taking on a whole new challenge by pushing limits and competing for a Guinness World Record at the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival this 17 September 2017.

“I am running the Sydney Blackmores Marathon on the 17 September 2017, and as a mark of respect and memory to my Kung Fu Sifu (at Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy Australia) who recently passed away from cancer, I will set the world record for FASTEST MARATHON RUN IN A KUNG FU UNIFORM!!”

Will is running this in the official Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy uniform, including black Jow Ga tunic, full length black Kung Fu pants, a black belt, and black Kung Fu training shoes. Note: these shoes are not made for running! They are very thin, canvas shoes. Will, we bow down to you!

“Sifu Randy Sullivan Bennett was (and always will be) an amazing person who brought so much energy and vibrancy into the world. He was a teacher, mentor, Kung Fu Master, and good friend… Every time I practice Kung Fu I will feel his energy there watching over us all (and silently correcting our forms)!

I want to be able to do anything I possibly can to help the fight against cancer, and to help people who have cancer in any possible way!”

 

Marking the anniversary of world’s first HPV vaccine

Article by Professor Ian Frazer

Eleven years ago, on 29 August 2006, the first Human Papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation was administered in Australia. The opportunity to develop the vaccine resulted from the discovery of a linkage between HPV and cervical cancer, and an insightful funding body, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

Looking back – how did we get here? 

Human Papillomavirus and cervical cancer

In the early 1980s a research group headed by Harald Zur Hausen at the German Cancer Research institute discovered that cervical cancer was associated with infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This discovery was later recognised by being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008.

Subsequent careful epidemiological studies by many groups showed not only that all cervical cancer could be attributed to infection with this virus, but also that a limited subset of about 10 of the many different papillomaviruses, termed “high risk” were the culprits.

Two HPV types (HPV16 and HPV18) were responsible for about 70% of the cervical cancer burden worldwide, and also contributed to the risk of other cancers relating to the anus and genitals, and some cancers of the mouth and throat. These studies also showed that cancer was a rare consequence of persistence of infection, that infections are largely without symptoms, generally transmitted sexually, and very common.

Vaccine development

These observations initiated a search by many research groups for vaccines to prevent HPV infection. Initial seed funding from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation helped to enable our research team at the Diamantina Institute in Queensland to achieve a breakthrough discovery and to attract more funding.

Professor Ian Frazer
Professor Ian Frazer at Diamantina Institute.

By mid-90s a technology for making a mimic of the virus, termed a virus like particle, had been shown to induce virus neutralising antibodies in animals, and was therefore a likely candidate for a vaccine.

Vaccine manufacturing companies subsequently developed methods for large scale production of the virus like particles. Early in the following decade, there were large scale clinical trials, that showed that vaccines based on these particles were safe and effective at preventing infection, and the subsequent development of cervical pre-cancer. By June 2006 the first vaccines were licensed for use, and deployment started in August 2006.

Dramatic reduction in presence of HPV

Over the past decade, HPV vaccine programs have been rolled out in many countries around the world. Australia was one of the first to adopt universal immunisation of school girls and young women, and also one of the first to add immunisation of school boys to the vaccine program. The vaccine used in Australia prevents infection with the two papillomaviruses most commonly responsible for cancer together with the two papillomaviruses that cause genital warts.

Over the past decade there has also been a dramatic reduction (over 80%) in new presentations with genital warts amongst young women and men. There has been a corresponding reduction in the presence of HPV in the cervix of young women undergoing pap smear screening for cervical cancer. These results have been achieved through immunisation of about 70% of the eligible females.

Young girl at an immunisation clinic.

Recently, similar results have been demonstrated in immunised women in the USA, where immunisation rates are much lower. Currently vaccines are licensed for use in every country of the world that regulates vaccines. Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and most European countries now have some form of universal immunisation program, and China has recently licenced the vaccine with the intent to introduce universal immunisation, while funding from the Gates Foundation and the WHO have enabled limited demonstration and pilot programs of HPV immunisation in many countries with developing and emerging economies, including India, Bhutan, Thailand, Mexico, Kenya, Vietnam, Fiji and Vanuatu. The majority of the more than 250,000 annual deaths from cervical cancer occur in these developing economies.

Immunisation is most commonly offered to 10-12 year old girls, prior to the onset of sexual activity. Although there have been some attempts to discredit the safety, the utility, or the moral justification of the vaccine programs, they have generally proven safe and well accepted. Over 150 million doses of vaccine have been delivered worldwide to date.

Looking forward – the next decade

Vaccine delivery in the developing world

One future challenge is to develop effective means of delivering universal vaccination in the countries of the developing world, where cervical cancer incidence is high and where strategies for prevention of cervical cancer are non-existent or ineffective.

Universal vaccination delivery remains a challenge in developing countries.

Barriers to all universal immunisation programs include vaccine cost, development of infrastructure for vaccine delivery and education to raise vaccine awareness, and the HPV vaccine is no different.

The relatively high cost of the vaccine itself in the developed world, which pays for the 15 year development program, has been sharply reduced by the manufacturing companies for the developing world. A further subsidised cost is available to those countries with with annual GDP of less than US$1580 per person. Nevertheless this vaccine is expensive in comparison with others.

Further, there are few countries that routinely deliver public health measures, including immunisation, to teenage and pre-teen girls, further hindering effective delivery. Considerable education about safety, efficacy, and purpose is necessary to ensure community acceptance of universal immunisation.

New vaccine technologies

The current two virus type (Cervarix, GSK – HPV16, HPV18) and four virus type (Gardasil, Merck HPV 16 , HPV 18, HPV 6 and HPV11) have proven equally effective in preventing cervical HPV infections. Gardasil also protects against genital warts. A new virus like particle vaccine (Gardasil-9) includes seven of the most common cervical cancer HPV types plus HPV6 and 11. This is now being made available and is likely to replace the others, at least in the developed world.

Alternative and potentially cheaper vaccine products, some with broader coverage against HPV types are being developed. These are made in bacteria rather than yeast or insect cells and, if effective, may replace the current technologies. However, these are still in early development and it is unlikely that they will have much impact within the next 10 years.

Alternative and potentially cheaper vaccine products, some with broader coverage against HPV types are being developed.

Better vaccine delivery

Over the past ten years, the original vaccine delivery schedule of three doses over six months has been shown effective in extensive clinical trials at an individual and population level. However, data from subsequent trials suggests that two vaccine doses delivered over the same period gives comparable immune responses in younger people and two doses may therefore be as effective in preventing infection.

Data on the duration and individual and population efficacy of two dose regimens will need to be gathered over the next decade. Ideally, the HPV vaccine might be given with other routine childhood vaccines to preschool children, perhaps topped up with a single booster shot in adolescence. Studies are underway to determine whether this strategy for delivery will prove effective.

New targets for prevention

Use of the current vaccines may turn out to prevent other cancers caused by HPV infection. There is particular interest in head and neck cancers, where a formal clinical trial is unlikely because of the long lag time between infection and disease.

One area of particular research interest is whether immunisation against HPV might prevent reinfection after successful treatment for HPV associated disease, and therefore avoid the need for ongoing surveillance in women treated for the infection.

The current vaccines do not cure people already infected with HPV. Mostly, current infections cure themselves, but if they don’t, then the vaccines do not diminish the future risk of cancer.

Therapeutic vaccines that might cure people of cancer or at least of persisting infection are therefore under development, with a number of strategies showing some evidence of efficacy. However, none have proven 100% effective and all are still at the stage of early phase clinical trials.

Observations from over the past ten years are that the HPV vaccines, if delivered effectively to the majority of 10-12 year old girls in the developing world from today forward, should lead to the global elimination of new cervical and other HPV associated cancers by 2050.

Article author, Professor Ian Frazer is the Chair of the Medical Research Advisory Committee at the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

Speaking with: Professor Peter Koopman on CRISPR and the power of genome editing

Editing DNA has the potential to treat disease by repairing or removing defective genes.
Kyle Lawson/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
 

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Speaking with: Professor Peter Koopman on CRISPR and the power of genome editing

CRISPR, or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a technology that is able to alter DNA.

While this sounds like the realms of science fiction, right now scientists are investigating its potential to eliminate genetic diseases in humans by repairing or replacing defective genes.

The University of Melbourne’s William Isdale spoke with Professor Peter Koopman from the University of Queensland about his research into CRISPR and the possibilities it could offer to future generations, as well as those suffering from genetic conditions right now.


Subscribe to The Conversation’s Speaking With podcasts on iTunes, or follow on Tunein Radio.

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William Isdale, Research Assistant, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Karen organises a clearing sale for cancer research

Karen supports cancer research in Australia

I am a high school teacher, a farmer’s wife, and the mother of two rambunctious girls aged four and six. We live on our family farm near the rural village of Caragabal, in the middle of NSW.

Unfortunately, cancer is not new in our family; my dad died of cancer almost 20 years ago, and I am a cancer survivor myself.

I was diagnosed in 2016 at age 35 with aggressive triple negative breast cancer, I underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, node dissection and radiation. My outcome is there is no longer any evidence of the disease. With treatment over, hope is left. Hope that the cancer never comes back, hope that my daughters are never directly affected by it, hope that I am around to help them through puberty, weddings and babies, and hope that I live long enough to enjoy retirement with my husband.

After my personal experiences with cancer, I urgently wanted to do my bit to help cancer researchers in this country to beat this disease. Although cancer treatments are improving and major research breakthroughs are getting closer, continuing those efforts needs more money.

My first, and small, event to raise funds for cancer research was shaving my head for donations, just before starting chemo last year. The next event will be massive! On August 26 there will be a combined farming machinery clearing sale in Caragabal with buyers and sellers attending from all over the district. Our village is well known for both its strong community spirit and making any event into a social event, and the upcoming sale will be no different. There will be plenty of good company throughout the day, bar and canteen facilities on offer, and a club dinner after the sale. Because the stock and station agents are all generously donating their time, the usual commission associated with a clearing sale will instead be donated to the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. We are hoping to sell $100,000 worth of machinery.

I know that there are many worthy causes out there, and all of them are important. If you’ve chosen to raise money for cancer research, I just want to say thank you. Your hard work, and the dollars that you raise mean so much to every cancer survivor. You’re giving hope for a brighter and more certain future. If cancer research is successful in its aims, my own hopes and dreams will all be realised.

Breast cancer study reveals new treatment targets

Cancer researcher Dr French at QIMR Berghofer
Associate Professor Juliet French at QIMR Berghofer

 

Researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have identified two new genes that influence the risk of breast cancer.

The study was a collaboration between Associate Professors Juliet French and Stacey Edwards.

Associate Professor French said the genes, known as CUPID1 and CUPID2, affect the way cells respond to potentially cancer-causing DNA damage.

“When damage occurs to certain parts of our DNA, it can lead to cancer developing,” Associate Professor French said.

“That’s why our bodies have well-developed ways of constantly repairing damage to our DNA. “

“We found that these two genes are involved in switching the mechanism by which cells repair DNA damage.”

“If you have these genes, your cells will repair DNA damage without causing any errors. However, if you don’t have these genes, your cells will switch to repairing DNA in a way that is prone to errors, and can actually cause more damage.”

Associate Professor French said the finding could, in future, provide a new target for treating the most common type of breast cancer, estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.

“While it’s still a long way off, we hope that in future a new treatment could be developed that could target these genes and switch them on,” she said.

“CUPID1 and CUPID2 fall within new class of genes called long non-coding RNAs.”

“Long noncoding RNAs are an under-studied class of genes that are likely to provide a wealth of opportunity for uncovering major breakthroughs for treating a range of diseases.”

The findings have been published recently in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

This post was first published on QIMR Berghofer’s website.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at QIMR Berghofer by providing three grants, totalling AUD$ 6.65 M, for the purchase of cutting edge research equipment and technology.

New way to empower the immune system to detect and kill cancer

Cancer researchers find new immunotherapy targets An international team of scientists led by Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre has identified a new way to potentially stop cancer cells hiding from the immune system.

Their research has identified a master regulator of a protein (PD-L1), which is over-expressed by tumour cells, and which suppresses the immune response to these rogue cancer cells allowing them to proliferate.

 “For some time we’ve known that PD-L1 plays an important regulatory role for our immune system – and when it is operating normally it is a handbrake that prevents over-reactions,” said Professor Mark Dawson, Head of the Translational Haematology Program at Peter Mac.

“We’ve also know that cancers exploit this process and an over-supply of PD-L1 on the surface of tumour cells effectively shields them, stopping them from being killed off by our immune system.”

“If we had a way to control the production of PD-L1 this would be a powerful new addition to our armoury of immunotherapy agents, and that’s what the research has identified.”

New protein target for immunotherapy

The researchers found the protein CMTM6 is needed to maintain the expression of PD-L1 and in a wide variety of cancers cells they showed that as CMTM6 levels decline so does the cancer’s ability to suppress the immune response.

The discovery opens a new avenue to develop immunotherapy drugs that target CMTM6. These would use the similar pathway as emerging “anti-PD1” class of antibody therapies, which have already shown great promise for the treatment of a broad array of cancers.

“If we can develop new drugs that re-activate a patient’s immune response to their cancer, this would be a major world-wide advance,” said Professor Joe Trapani, Executive Director of Research and Head of the 70-strong Cancer Immunology Program at Peter Mac.

“Immunotherapy is the first totally new treatment for advanced cancer in over 50 years and our capacity for this exciting research project and many more is rapidly expanding.”

A paper describing this work, titled “CMTM6 maintains the expression of PD-L1 and regulates anti-tumour immunity”, has been recently published in the journal Nature.

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and other collaborators.

This post was originally published on Peter Mac’s website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Peter Mac by providing three grants, totalling $7 million towards cutting edge research technology and equipment.

Sandra celebrates her birthday by fundraising for cancer research

Sandra raises money for Australian cancer researchThis year I decided to support a charity as part of my 65th birthday celebration. This was a heartfelt decision as I’ve survived breast cancer and my partner Terry saw his wife die of cancer 23 years ago. The birthday party was Terry’s idea and gift to me.

I love life and celebrate every day. Retirement is not for me, yet. After many years of working in adult educational management, I currently run my own consultancy business doing small projects mainly for health department agencies. Family time is also a priority – there is my partner, my two grown sons and my 2-year old grandson. I am also a passionate amateur photographer and express my creativity through this art form as often as possible.

Invitations to the celebration included the request of no presents please. Having all that I need in life, it seemed appropriate and timely to ask people to make a donation to cancer research rather than bring me presents. The request didn’t particularly surprise my family, as I’ve done overseas mission work in the past which included raising money for the mission. I knew about ACRF and its efforts in cancer research from another friend, whose wife died last year, and donations in lieu of flowers were requested then.

The theme colours used for the party were purple and orange with silver and our large outdoor area was decorated in these colours with balloons, lanterns and anything else we could find. At the party entrance there was a large purple box decorated with the silver ACRF ribbons and donation envelopes. Nearly everyone who made a donation has been affected by cancer.

It is sad how many families are dealing with this horrible disease. One of my dear friends died of breast cancer in 2014, there is my own experience and that of my partner. There are undoubtedly many cancer not-for-profit organisations deserving our support but the most important thing to me is that better methods of prevention, detection and treatment are found for the many cancers affecting us and that is the goal of ACRF through continued research.

To anyone thinking about supporting cancer research, I would say, why hesitate – just do it! Give someone a chance to live, help put an end to all cancers.

Share your story Organise your own event

 

Judy opens her home again to fundraise for cancer research

Judith supports cancer research in Australia“My name is Judith, but I am Judy to family and friends and any new acquaintances. If asked to describe myself, I would say 71 years young, an optimist, pacifist, wife, mother of two, grandmother of four, and a friend to many.

In 2013 I decided to open my home and fundraise for cancer research, because I felt, and continue to feel today, that I should do something to help end this dreadful disease. Over the years, cancer has taken the lives of so many people that I love, and currently, four of my friends are receiving cancer treatments. I also had bladder cancer in 2014, but all has been well with check-ups since the operation.

Getting ready for a fundraiser is hard work and while my husband John thinks I’m a bit crazy for doing it, he does support me in every way. I also have friends who wouldn’t undertake a similar event themselves, but they are more than willing to lend a hand each year. Believe me, they are always a tremendous help!

My home is small compared to many others, but we manage to cram a lot of people in each year (from 20 to 41). There is always coffee and cake, or sometimes soup and sandwiches, for everyone who drops by. In addition to the table of gift items for purchase which I make, there is an auction of donated items, a guessing competition, a coin toss, and plenty of lively conversation. We are sometimes a bit short on space, but no one complains and we do have a lot of fun. Every person who was at my first fundraiser has attended all of my others. It is quite a thrill to have raised over $10,000 for cancer research since 2013. 

I plan to go on supporting ACRF and their cancer research efforts for as long as possible. If we stop raising funds for research, cancer wins. We can’t allow that to happen!

Share your story Organise your own event

Tumour blood supply stopped by a modified natural compound

Researchers have discovered how a modified natural compound can disrupt the formation of blood vessel networks in neuroblastoma tumours, thus preventing tumours from laying down the vital supply lines that fuel cancer growth and spread.

The international study paves the way for less toxic treatments for neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that has an average age of diagnosis of just one to two years old.

The discovery is based on an earlier study by Dr Orazio Vittorio of Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI). In 2012, he found that the natural polyphenol catechin slows tumour growth in the laboratory but breaks down too quickly in the body to be effective.

“We joined catechin with a sugar called dextran. We found this dextran-catechin complex is much more stable in the body and that it slows tumour growth by affecting copper levels – but we didn’t know precisely how,” Dr Vittorio said.

The new research showed that copper is needed by endothelial cells, the cells that line blood vessels, and that dextran-catechin disrupts the cells’ copper levels in several ways.

The result is clearly visible down a microscope. When human endothelial cells were cultured and treated with dextran-catechin, the normally branching networks of blood vessels failed to form properly. Likewise, in animal models, neuroblastoma tumours treated with dextran-catechin had significantly fewer blood vessels than tumours treated with saline control.

“Instead of forming a neat, branching network of blood vessels, you see a mess of cells all over the place, which means cancer cells can’t get the blood supply they need,” explained Dr Vittorio.

“This is exciting because it’s a new target for the childhood cancer neuroblastoma that appears safe and has minimal side effects”, he said.

Further laboratory research into dextran-catechin’s potential as a future treatment is underway. The study was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This news article was first published on the CCI website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at CCI by awarding three research grants, in total $5.2 million, towards cutting edge research technology.

Behind the Scenes with the Department of Human Services

supporting Australian cancer research

Throughout the months of May and June, ACRF was lucky enough to have the Department of Human Services (DHS) support us as their national 2017 DHS Games charity.

On Monday 3 July, Clare Halloran from the Social Work Services Branch – a former cancer patient with Hodgkin’s lymphoma had the chance to see things

from the other side of the fence. Clare donned a lab coat during a visit to The ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics at the Australian National University’s The John Curtin School of Medical Research. Joined by colleague, Jackie Paul, as well as Tamara Shaw and Stephanie Luck from the communications team, Clare got the low-down on the latest research into cancer detection.

Led by Professor Ross Hannan, Centenary Chair of Cancer Research and Head of the ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics at the ANU, the private tour was coordinated by ACRF’s Priscilla Leong.

“What better way to learn about ACRF and the research we fund than by entering the home of top ANU scientists?” said Priscilla.

“The tour gives participants a behind-the-scenes look into discovery-based research and the development of new compounds, drugs and diagnostic approaches for cancer treatment.”

The emphasis of the School’s research is on an understanding of the fundamental principles of human life processes and the pathologies of these processes which cause human disease.

Leading cancer researcher Professor Hannan and his team at the ANU received a $2 million grant from ACRF in December 2015. The grant was used to establish the ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics which features a one-of-a-kind drug screening facility, commissioned to identify new combinations of the 4,500 FDA-approved drugs that can lead to new treatments and potential cures for cancer patients. As it can take 10 years and $1.2 billion to get a new drug approved, using pre-approved drugs is a much more cost-effective, ready-made and safe option.

At the conclusion of the tour, Professor Hannan praised the work undertaken in the labs.

“The work they do could not be underestimated, we are currently expanding the department with new cancer researchers and our current goal is to raise $10 million by next year,” he said.
Clare was equally effusive.

”The lab was spectacular and it was great to see research being done in the heart of the city I call home,: she said. “Of particular interest to me was getting to look through a microscope at 20-year-old Leukemia cancer cells that were donated for research studies.

“I feel very privileged; not many people get the opportunity to see the great research and equipment inside a medical research lab! I was blown away by the enthusiasm, dedication and expertise on display today. It gives me a great deal of hope for the future.”

We’d like to send out a big thanks to DHS and all their staff who supported us through the months of May and June. Through their efforts ACRF raised just over $19,000. But to keep labs like these funded—so hope can be turned into reality— ACRF continues to rely on the generosity of others.

It’s important to mention that when you donate to ACRF, your money works a couple of ways. Not only does it go towards grants to help fund vital work, it act as leverage for places like The John Curtin School of Medical Research to attract additional grants from other entities. So in effect, your donation keeps on giving.

Workplace Giving Program — the way you can continue to support ACRF

If you haven’t donated so far—or would like to send some more money our way — why not donate regularly, or as a one-off, via the Workplace Giving Program? All donations received are processed as pre-tax deductions and donations over $2 are tax deductible. Every dollar counts, so it’s worth doing.

Learn more about workplace giving Share your story

Why some moles become melanoma still a mystery

Some moles become skin cancer

Our definition of a Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes. Most melanoma cells still make melanin, and so melanoma tumours are usually brown or black, however, some melanomas do not make melanin and can appear pink, tan, or even white.

The risk of Melanoma increases with exposure to UV radiation from the sun or other sources such as solariums, particularly with episodes of sunburn.

As stated by the Melanoma Institute of Australia, Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world and kills more young Australians (20 -39-year-olds) than any other single cancer.

Testing for two gene mutations commonly associated with melanoma would be insufficient to determine whether a mole could turn cancerous, University of Queensland research has found.

UQ Diamantina Institute’s Dr Mitchell Stark is among researchers investigating why melanomas develop from some naevi (moles).

“In Australia, about half of all melanomas develop from a naevus, but most moles will never progress to become a melanoma,” Dr Stark said.

“We are trying to determine what causes some naevi to change so that we can better predict or more accurately detect those which could become dangerous.

“This would help avoid unnecessary excisions of those lesions unlikely to pose a risk.”

Scientists from UQ’s Dermatology Research Centre analysed samples from participants in the Brisbane Naevus Morphology Study, and discovered all had one of two key mutations associated with melanoma.

“We found that 85 per cent of samples had a mutation on the gene known as BRAF, and the remaining samples had a mutation on the NRAS gene,” Dr Stark said.

“When either of these genes are mutated it activates the signalling pathway known as MAPK, which is commonly active in melanomas.

“Clearly our samples were not melanomas, so additional genomic events need to occur before a mole becomes malignant.”

Dr Stark said further research was underway to determine other genetic changes that could trigger the development of melanoma from naevi.

Studies have consistently shown the number of naevi a person has is the strongest predictor of risk for melanoma.

Dr Stark said people with a high number of moles, and other risk characteristics such as fair skin or light coloured hair or eyes, should continue to see their treating dermatologist or skin cancer physician for routine skin examination.

Dr Stark is a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Early Career Fellow. The UQ Dermatology Research Centre is a participant in the Centre of Research Excellence for the Study of Naevi, and is based at the Translational Research Institute.

The research was published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

This news post was first published on the University of Queensland’s website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Diamantina Institute by providing three grants, totalling AUD$ 6.2M, for the purchase of cutting edge research equipment and technology.

If you would like to donate to help fund research to prevent, detect and treat all types of cancer, including melanoma, you can donate here to help Australians affected by this devastating disease.

Whole-body MRI scan picks up early-stage hereditary cancers

A major study confirms, for the first time, that whole-body MRI detects primary cancers in people with an inherited cancer risk condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome at an early and curable stage.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a rare and devastating condition caused by mutations in the TP53 gene and characterised by high cancer risk at multiple body sites.

Half of those with Li-Fraumeni syndrome will develop their first cancer by the age of 30, and almost all will have cancer in their lifetime. Despite this near-inevitability, there is no universally accepted approach to managing cancer risk in Li-Fraumeni syndrome –largely because it is difficult to justify invasive organ-by-organ screening approaches for multi-organ cancer syndromes.

To address this issue, an international consortium of researchers sought to determine whether whole-body MRI could play a role in surveillance of those with Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

The findings were clear. A previously unidentified primary cancer was detected in one in 14 adults undergoing their first whole-body MRI. In children, the detection rate was higher still: a primary cancer was identified in one in seven children. Primary cancers were detected in the bone, soft tissue, breast, brain, lung, kidney, thyroid, prostate and bowel. In all, 35 new primary cancers were detected and all were treated with curative intent.

Professor David Thomas, at Garvan Institute of Medical Research, said that the screen picks up cancers before symptoms appear and at a high rate. This makes it possible to treat those cancers before they have had a chance to spread.

Results applicable to other cancers with increased hereditary risk

Research findings also confirm that the findings using whole-body MRI compare favourably with breast MRI, which is currently approved for screening of women at increased risk of breast cancer.

“In our analysis, the detection rate of primary cancers was several-fold higher than has been reported for breast MRI in women at high risk of breast cancer (BRCA1/2 carriers) – which is typically about one cancer in every 50 women screened. And the false positive rate – the detection of lesions that turn out not to be new primary cancers – is also comparable to that observed for breast MRI in at-risk populations,” said Professor Thomas.

Dr Mandy Ballinger at Garvan said that the study is likely to herald a change in thinking around the clinical management of hereditary cancer risk.

“Typically, individuals with Li-Fraumeni syndrome have been monitored for new cancers in only those few organs where robust screening approaches exist – in breast, for instance. But in Li-Fraumeni syndrome and in other cases of high cancer risk, cancers can appear at any time, in any organ. This means that this organ-specific approach inevitably fails to pick up most cancers.”

These findings, which are set to change clinical practice in monitoring those at high genetic risk of cancer, have been recently published in the leading cancer journal JAMA Oncology.

The news article was first published on the Garvan website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Garvan by providing three grants, totalling AUD $6.13million, towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

Image: Dr Ballinger and Prof Thomas. Image courtesy of Garvan.

Cancer immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda and Opdivo hold hope for some, but there’s still a way to go

File 20170725 7881 3ml7zo
Some people taking these drugs can see their cancer completely disappear – there’s nothing left to see on their x-rays. From www.shutterstock.com.au

 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
By Craig Gedye, Oncologist and Senior Lecturer, University of Newcastle

Imagine being able to offer hope to people with cancers that were once thought untreatable. Checkpoint immune drugs like pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) are heralding this new era in cancer treatment. Some people taking these drugs can see their cancer completely disappear; there’s nothing left to see on their x-rays.

We rightly celebrate these successes, but must face the sobering truth that only a minority of people experience these dramatic benefits. Decades of research have helped us reach this point. Now scientists and doctors from Australia and around the world are working furiously to learn more about how these immune treatments work or fail.

Who it works for now

Nivolumab and pembrolizumab are checkpoint immunotherapy antibodies. They work by blocking barriers (or “checkpoints”) created by cancer cells to protect against attack from the immune system. Remove the barrier and the immune system can destroy the cancer.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The most success so far for these drugs is with melanoma, which has long been known to respond to immunotherapy. In Australia, single or combination checkpoint immunotherapy substantially helps about half of people with melanoma, and will soon be available for people with kidney and lung cancers.

Trials continue in most types of cancer. Checkpoint immunotherapy has proven beneficial in patients with bladder cancer, head and neck cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma. A smaller proportion of people, typically around 20-30%, are helped in most of these cancers. These successes and failures start to show us how checkpoint immunotherapy works, and how it might work better.

Who it might help soon

Patients whose cancers are already under attack from immune cells are the people who seem most likely to be helped by checkpoint immunotherapy. But many patients’ cancers are devoid of immune cells – so removing checkpoints doesn’t help.

This is why the first strategy to improve checkpoint immunotherapy is to diversify and muster the immune system into tumours. Some checkpoint immunotherapy drugs (such as ipilimumab, brand name “Yervoy”) work this way. In effect they “vaccinate” the patient against their cancer, educating the immune system on how to fight the cancer, and recruiting immune cells to attack tumours.

A similar method uses modified viruses that infect and explode immune cells. These can be directly injected into cancers, drawing in immune cells to attack the cancer. This is the basis of the very first immune therapy for cancer, first used in 1896.

Finally, identifying the minority of people who naturally have immune-infiltrated cancers may identify those likely to benefit from checkpoint immunotherapy (such as aggressive breast cancer needing chemotherapy before surgery).


Read more: Explainer: how does Keytruda treat melanoma and why is it so costly?


We may be able to identify a few people within various types of cancer most likely to benefit from checkpoint immunotherapy. For example, while checkpoint immunotherapy doesn’t help most bowel and prostate cancer patients, a small group of people whose cancers’ DNA isn’t able to repair properly have dramatic outcomes from checkpoint immunotherapy.

This lack of efficient DNA repair is called “mismatch repair deficiency”. Mismatch repair is one of the tools cells use to repair their DNA. Loss of mismatch repair leads to aggressive cancers that don’t respond to chemotherapy, but which throw up lots of targets for the immune system.

Up to a third of uterine cancers, 15% of bowel cancers, 15% of stomach cancers and perhaps 5% each of prostate, oesophageal, cervical and ovarian cancers have mismatch repair deficiency, potentially making them treatable with checkpoint immunotherapy.

How we might improve immune therapy further

Even when fully implemented, these strategies will leave many people who won’t benefit from checkpoint immunotherapy – but a huge number of new treatments, combinations and ideas are being tested in clinical trials.

Drugs that protect immune cells from toxic chemicals released by nearby cancer cells appear very promising. A myriad of new antibodies that block other immune checkpoints are in development. And we haven’t abandoned standard cancer treatments like blood-supply blocking drugs, radiotherapy or chemotherapy; these may help immunotherapy by killing enough cancer cells to recruit immune cells into tumours.

Should everyone with cancer take checkpoint immunotherapy? These drugs are safe overall, though people with autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) need to be very cautious. This is because the underlying cause of checkpoint immunotherapy side effects, an overactive immune system, is very similar to the causes of autoimmune diseases.

And there is a social challenge: cost. We are privileged to have many publicly funded PBS-reimbursed cancer treatments in Australia, but drug costs are rising sharply. One solution will be to find more ways to identify the patients most likely to benefit from these drugs, so we’re not using expensive drugs to treat people for whom they won’t have an effect.

Another, perhaps complementary, strategy would be pay-for-performance – treat everyone, but only reimburse the manufacturer if the patient is helped. This might particularly assist people with rare cancers, where clinical trials are extremely hard to perform.

The ConversationCheckpoint immunotherapy is a triumph – when it works. It’s important to temper our hopes with the knowledge that these promising drugs can’t yet help every person, with every cancer. But we’re working on it.

Targeting Cancer’s Achilles’ heel to improve breast cancer treatment

Researchers at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and their collaborators have found a promising new class of anti-cancer agents that targets cancer cells’ Achilles’ heel. The new compound, MCL-1 inhibitor S63845, is one of a promising new class of drugs that triggers tumour cell death.

Combining the new anti-cancer compound S63845 with currently used cancer drugs has been now demonstrated to be more effective in killing triple negative breast cancers and HER2-positive breast cancers, suggesting it should be investigated in clinical trials.

Dr James Whittle at WEHI, who is also a medical oncologist at Peter Mac, said that S63845 targeted MCL-1, a protein that WEHI scientists have previously shown to be important for cancer cell survival.

“MCL-1 gives cancer cells a survival advantage, allowing them to resist chemotherapy or other anti-cancer therapies that would otherwise trigger cancer cell death.”

“Importantly, the combination of the MCL-1 inhibitor S63845 with standard therapies was far more effective than either treatment alone. These can be incredibly aggressive tumours, so to see a response to the combined therapy in this tumour type is very exciting.”

Professor Geoff Lindeman, also a medical oncologist at the Peter Mac and Royal Melbourne Hospital, said MCL-1 inhibitor S63845 was one of a promising new class of drugs.

“Our hope is that it will be possible to combine MCL-1 inhibitors with conventional therapies to more effectively treat certain types of breast cancer and deliver better outcomes for our patients,” Professor Lindeman said.

MCL-1 is a critical anti-cancer therapeutic target. It is found at excessive levels in triple negative and HER2-positive breast cancers, and is often associated with poor outcomes for patients.

Around one in three Australian women with breast cancer have a triple negative or HER2-positive breast cancer. Professor Lindeman said triple negative breast cancers, in particular, were in urgent need of new treatment options.

“Triple negative breast cancers have not seen the same improvement in targeted therapies, or survival, as some other types of breast cancer,” he said.

The study was published today in Science Translational Medicine.

The research was supported by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation amongst others.

The original news post was published on the WEHI website.

Focus on a single cell sees development of new cancer treatment

For over 30 years, Professors Jenny Gamble and Mathew Vadas AO at the Centenary Institute in Sydney have been working on understanding the function of a single cell, the “guardian” endothelial cell that lines our blood vessels.

Their thorough understanding of how the endothelium is critical in the control of inflammation, the body’s response against harmful stimuli, has led to the development of the new cancer treatment.

Collaboration with Danish and Australian researchers has shown that the new drug, called CD5-2, has potential to be effective and to work alongside the current immunotherapy for cancers.

CD5-2 is the first drug of its kind and works by altering the endothelial cells of the blood vessels within the tumour. This allows T cells to penetrate into the tumour and also impacts on the behaviour of these T cells by allowing them to more effectively provide their protective function of fighting and killing the cancer cells.

The new drug could be effective in some of the hardest to treat cancers with the highest mortality rates, such as pancreatic and liver cancer, although it would also be effective in other, more common cancers such as melanoma.

Essential toxicology and safety studies are currently underway and it is hoped that this new drug could be in clinical trials in the next 2-3 years.

Professor Gamble is the Head of the Vascular Biology Program and Professor Vadas is the Executive Director of the Institute. Professor Vadas has previously chaired ACRF’s Medical Research Advisory Committee and is currently a committee member.

The study has recently been published in the journal Cancer Research.

This news was first published on the Centenary Website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at the Centenary Institute by providing two cancer research grants totalling $7.5 million.

Image: Professors Vadas (left) and Gamble. Image courtesy of Centenary Institute.

Early ACRF support of anti-cancer treatment results in landmark Australian deal

WEHI researchers, image courtesy of WEHI.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) has made a landmark deal worth up to US$325 million from the partial sale of royalty rights in the anti-cancer treatment venetoclax. The rights have been acquired by Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and WEHI will retain partial royalties in the treatment.

Venetoclax is based on three decades of ground-breaking research into cancer cell survival, which lead to the creation of the treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in collaboration with commercial partners.

WEHI director Professor Doug Hilton AO said that many important discoveries at the Institute laid the foundation for venetoclax’s development and the philanthropic support over the past 30 years, including grants from ACRF, have been a vital part of this journey of discovery.

Professor Doug Hilton AO said the Institute’s commitment to scientific excellence, innovation and its collaborative culture underpinned the successful translation of venetoclax.

“With venetoclax, we have shown the Institute has both the scientific determination and entrepreneurial acumen to take basic research all the way to being a clinical and commercial success, alongside our partners. This need not be a one-time event. Venetoclax is proof that Australian institutions can be key players in globally significant translation.”

 “Venetoclax demonstrates what success can look like for a collaborative, entrepreneurial and innovative medical research institute and why investment in basic research is so important.”

Professor Hilton also thanked WEHI’s long term partners and supporters.

“Discoveries are always the result of collaborations and teamwork. We recognise that our supporters are vital contributors to our research teams. Thank you for standing with us. I am proud that the Institute continues to uphold its promise to make discoveries for humanity. Together we can continue this important work,” said Professor Hilton.

The income generated by the partial sale of rights will be invested back into research at WEHI to fuel more discoveries. One of the priority areas will be to accelerate drug discovery, ensuring that potential new treatments will be taken from laboratories and translated into new treatments and diagnostics.

The news was first published on the WEHI website. 

You can find out more about the development of venetoclax on the discovery timeline.

ACRF has supported WEHI by providing three grants, totalling AUD 5.5million towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

 

Hayley runs City2Surf for cancer research

funding research Australia

“From a young age I enjoyed all sports with touch football and athletics being my favourites, and someday I would like to work in the health and fitness industry. Now at age 22, and after two knee reconstructions, I feel ready to participate in a big event like City2Surf. To be honest, I am not too sure what urged me to register this year other than telling myself to do it now or probably I never would. I absolutely love my family and friends and have learned in the past few years that life is definitely too short, and we don’t know what is around the corner.

Although I am running for every person, family member or friend affected by cancer, there are three people in particular that I’ll be thinking of all along the way. There is my father, Michael Collins, who was diagnosed with Stage 1 prostate cancer in 2016, and he continues to have scans and tests; my brother-in-law, Jacob McCormick who had a benign brain tumour removed in 2016 at age 17; and Sharon McCormick, my partner’s beautiful mother, who died of cancer in 2014.

With no warning signs other than a horrible pain in her lower back, Sharon was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away four months later, just one day away from achieving her 46th birthday. The emptiness of not having Sharon in our lives is undeniably still there, and not a day goes by without thinking of her.  She was a beautiful soul and everything about her was infectious: the smile, the laugh (or snort!), the down-to-earth loving nature. Sharon was a true friend and an amazing person that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

I don’t think any of us can truly understand the pain of loss that comes with cancer until it affects you or your loved ones. Participating in City2Surf and fundraising for cancer research is my way of honouring all of my family, past and present, who have been affected by cancer.

After registering for this year’s race, I needed to decide on one cancer foundation to support. The choices seemed overwhelming but I ended up selecting the ACRF because it is the foundation that funds research on all types of cancers.

My advice to anyone else who is thinking of fundraising would be: honestly, just go for it! Whether you are sponsoring a friend or an organisation or running in the event itself, you are helping get one step closer to ending cancer, which in turn will save lives.

Every cent raised for cancer research counts. Without fundraising, we have no research and without research, there will be no breakthroughs. Together we can fund the technology and equipment that researchers need to continue progress towards ending all cancers.”

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Clinical trial to test new treatment for pancreatic cancer

A study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, forms the basis for a trial which will screen 150 to 200 pancreatic cancer patients for responsiveness to specific drugs at Monash Health in Victoria.

The multi-disciplinary team from Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash Health and Monash University aims to improve treatment for pancreatic cancer, one of the least survivable forms of cancer.

In this initial trial, tumour samples will be screened for genetic compatibility with drug currently used to treat colon cancer in the hope it may be effective in treating up to 10 per cent of pancreatic cancer patients.

“Pancreatic cancer has an overall five year survival rate of around five per cent, which is one of the lowest survival rates of any malignancy. While there have been marginal improvements in treatments, long-term survival rates have remained poor and stagnant over the last 30 years,” said Professor Brendan Jenkins, Research Group Head, Cancer and Immune Signalling at Hudson Institute.

Professor Jenkins and Dr Daniel Croagh, a Monash Health hepatobiliary surgeon who is leading the trial, say it may inform a fast-tracked pipeline for treatment, where biopsies are taken from patients, genetically sequenced and screened for suitability with new drugs, meaning patients could be on a clinical trial within just two weeks.

The treatment will be used to target an important receptor called the epidermal growth factor receptor in those patients whose tumours have a non-mutated version of the KRAS gene. These types of tumours make up about 10 per cent of all pancreatic cancers.

Dr Croagh and Professor Jenkins are hopeful the clinical trial will lead to more targeted treatment approaches to improve responsiveness to drugs and give patients a better chance at surviving longer.

“Pancreatic cancer is a particularly aggressive disease, and a challenging one to treat. The one-size-fits-all treatment approach in place for the last three decades needs to be altered if survival rates are to improve. While there is no silver bullet, we hope this is the beginning of a shift towards better patient outcomes,” they said.

This news post was first published on the Hudson Institute of Medical Research website.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Hudson Institute of Medical Research and Monash University by funding cutting edge research equipment and technology.

For more information on all clinical trials in Australia, please contact Australian Clinical Trials.

Gene discovery to help breast cancer patients

Breast cancer cells
Breast cancer cells: Image QIMR Berghofer

 

Cancer researchers at QIMR Berghofer have discovered a set of genes that could be used to predict the survival of breast cancer patients. The findings could in the future help to determine which patients would benefit from additional treatments. The scientists have also discovered one of the factors that can cause breast cancer to grow more aggressively.

Dr Jason Lee said G9a was a molecule that promoted tumour growth.

“When conditions are normal inside the body, a change occurs to this molecule and it breaks down, making it harmless,” Dr Lee said.

“However, we have discovered that inside a tumour, where there is very little oxygen, that change doesn’t occur to the molecule, meaning it doesn’t break down and instead starts to accumulate.

“This accumulation of the molecule G9a then makes the tumour grow more aggressively.”

Dr Lee said the team had also found that G9a silences certain genes.

“We don’t yet know what these genes control, but we found that when these genes are switched on, patients tend to have better survival rates, and when they’re switched off, patient survival tends to be worse.”

“In other words, these genes are predictors of whether patients are likely to experience a recurrence of their cancer.”

Professor Frank Gannon said when the group tested an available drug that targets G9a, they found tumour growth more than halved.

“The available drug we tested appeared to be effective in all types of breast cancer, but particularly in estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, which is the most common form. While most of these patients respond well to treatment, about a quarter develop resistance to the treatment they receive.”

“We hope that in future, we will be able to test patients for the genes controlled by G9a to determine which patients are likely to experience a relapse and need further treatment.

“Only those patients could then receive the treatment, which would be more cost effective and save patients from unnecessary drugs.”

The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

This post was originally published on the QIMR Berghofer website.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at QIMR Berghofer by providing three grants, totalling AUD$ 6.65 M, for the purchase of cutting edge research equipment and technology.

Interleukin-2 immunotherapy improved

Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have been exploring ways to make interleukin-2 (IL-2) immunotherapy less toxic and more effective against cancer. In doing so, the team has uncovered surprising new information about how to boost the antitumour activity of interleukin-2 molecules.

IL-2 has been in clinical use for decades, and has been called ‘the first effective cancer immunotherapy’. But, it is so toxic that it is currently only prescribed in a very limited number of late-stage cancers.

Associate Professor Daniel Christ, who led the research, said that IL-2’s potential to be a better anticancer therapy is promising.

“We are currently witnessing an explosion in new immunotherapies for cancer, such as the immune checkpoint inhibitors – and this has really reinvigorated huge interest in early immunotherapies, such as IL-2, that can support the immune system to attack cancer.”

“Importantly, we’re seeing that immunotherapies tend to work better in combination – so one reason we wanted to investigate IL-2 again was because it could be a good candidate for use in combination therapy with newer treatments.”

Modification of IL-2 cells leads to improvement

In the current study the research team set out to make a range of different versions of IL-2.

“We wanted to make two key changes to IL-2,” said Dr Rodrigo Vazquez-Lombardi, who co-led the research with A/Prof Christ and Professor Jonathan Sprent.

“We wanted to make it more powerful as an antitumour agent, and we also wanted to extend its half-life in the body – because IL-2 is removed from the blood so rapidly that this limits its use as a therapy. We reasoned that, by doing both things, we had a good chance of developing a more effective and less toxic version.”

IL-2 acts against cancer by instructing immune cells on how to behave towards a tumour. In particular, IL-2 activates ‘killer cells’, such as killer T cells and natural killer cells, stimulating them to attack tumours.

When the researchers looked more closely, they found that modifying the IL-2 molecules changed their behaviour and helped to reduce the numbers of a different class of immune cell – the regulatory T cells. These cells are a part of the immune system that suppress immune responses of other cells.

The researchers say their findings will change thinking about IL-2, and provide important guidance for the development of future IL-2-based therapies.

Prof Sprent points out, “Clinicians have become wary of IL-2 therapy for cancer because it’s a double-edged sword: the benefits of boosting killer cell function are countered by the parallel stimulation of T regulatory cells.

“Our simple trick of selectively stimulating just the killer cells and not the T regulatory cells is a real breakthrough and should restore faith in IL-2 therapy.”

Their findings were recently published in Nature Communications.

The original post was published on Garvan’s website. Image of Dr Rodrigo Vazquez-Lombardi courtesy of Garvan.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Garvan by providing three grants, totalling AUD $6.13million, towards cutting edge cancer research infrastructure, equipment and technology.

Image: Dr Rodrigo Vazquez-Lombardi

New ACRF research centre targets early detection of lung cancer

The ACRF Centre for Lung Cancer Early Detection has been officially launched today at The University of Queensland’s Thoracic Research Centre at The Prince Charles Hospital (TPCH). The centre will deliver a major new research effort focusing on detecting lung cancer sooner.

In 2015, ACRF provided $1 million grant to equip the centre with the latest technology needed to advance lung cancer diagnostics. Director, UQ Thoracic Research Centre at TPCH, Professor Kwun Fong said the centre’s focus will be on identifying better ways to screen for lung cancer and improving methods for diagnosing suspected cases.

“We will use the latest technology to identify markers for lung cancer that might be present in the breath, blood or lung fluids at a very early stage of the disease,” Professor Fong said.

“These markers could form the basis for new lung cancer tests to allow earlier diagnosis and treatment.”

Professor Fong said the centre will bring together the skills from several highly skilled researchers and scientists, including collaborators at CSIRO, who will assist by analysing breath samples.

“They will be looking for very small traces of lung cancer cells to identify the disease long before our current tests can,” Professor Fong said.

“Most importantly we will also be looking at how to take research to the clinic as quickly as possible to ensure that our patients see the benefits of earlier diagnosis.

“Due to the clinical focus of the research, the team will be able to translate findings directly into daily clinical practice.”

ACRF Chief Executive Dr Ian Brown said lung cancer remains the leading cause of death from cancer in Australia, for both men and women, with less than 15 per cent of patients surviving for five years.

“The low survival rate is mainly due to the diagnosis usually occurring at an advanced stage of the cancer, when there are few effective treatment options available.” Dr Brown said.

“Lung cancer can be more effectively treated if diagnosed in its earliest stage, and that is why ACRF felt it was vitally important to support this research.”

A robotic system for handling multiple specimens and equipment to look for genetic markers has been installed at the centre’s laboratories at The Prince Charles Hospital.

Research will be conducted over the next five years.

Health authorities estimate that more than 9000 Australians will die from lung cancer in 2017, and more than 12,400 new cases will be diagnosed this year.

William Bond running City2Surf to support cancer research

William is supporting Australian cancer research

“I am 28 years old, passionate about new challenges, and will soon take on the City2Surf running in a Lion Dance Costume! My participation in this year’s race is to honour the memory of my late Kung Fu Sifu (Grandmaster), Randy Sullivan Bennett, who passed away earlier this year from mantle cell lymphoma.

Randy was an enthusiastic martial arts teacher, a mentor, and my friend. Although I only knew him for four years, he made a huge impact on my life, my outlook, and of course my Kung Fu training. Towards the end of 2016, I successfully completed black belt testing with Randy pushing me hard, overseeing all the grading and most of my sparring sessions. He did my black belt presentation, and I made a promise to keep on training and make Grandmaster proud!

The greatest appeal of doing a fundraising activity is to be able to help people and improve things. The City2Surf is a big event, and it is a good opportunity for me to raise as much money as possible for cancer research and ACRF. It’s also where I can show respect to Randy in a meaningful way.

Sadly, cancer affects so many people with seemingly no regard to health, happiness or diet. Even Randy was not immune: he was a vegetarian, incredibly fit, good-humoured and with a positive view on life. Cancer makes me feel like there is so much we don’t know about the world and so much we can’t control, even with our own bodies. I believe that continued research is the only way forward in achieving an end to cancer, which is why I chose to raise funds for ACRF.

We can all help out with encouraging more funding for cancer research and increase awareness of how that research is resulting in more successful treatments. Ultimately, we all want to see cancer completely eliminated!” – ACRF supporter, William Bond

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Study raises hopes for new sarcoma treatment

Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne have played a critical role in an international collaboration that has identified promising therapeutic targets for a rare form of sarcoma afflicting mostly young people.

Synovial sarcoma is a subtype of soft-tissue sarcoma, a group of malignant tumours originating from connective tissue in the body. Treatment options are limited and survival is poor.

The Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute researchers, led by Professor Roger Daly, collaborated with Dr Emmy Fleuren and other scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, scientists from Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and other institutes, to investigate what drives sarcoma progression and to identify targeted therapies.

Professor Daly’s laboratory took a novel approach using a technique called mass spectrometry, which enabled the scientists to look at large numbers of proteins across cell lines derived from different types of sarcomas and identify those driving aberrant growth.

They identified two suspect proteins, called ALK and MET, in subsets of synovial sarcoma, validating their observations in preclinical models and in patient specimens.

“It’s exciting to apply a new technique which looks at proteins rather than DNA, and be able to identify novel therapeutic targets,” Professor Daly said.

“This provides a proof of principle for our approach, and means that we can now go ahead and apply this to other cancers,” he said.

Importantly, drugs are already available against the two proteins that are currently being used to treat other cancers, he said. However, clinical trials would be needed to test for their appropriateness in treating all forms of synovial sarcoma, the researchers said.

Dr Fleuren said that despite intensive treatment options including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, the prospects for synovial sarcoma patients were poor.

“This disease can have a devastating impact, particularly among young patients and in the metastatic setting,” Dr Fleuren said.

“At the moment, sarcoma patients are generally speaking treated in a one-size fits all strategy – there’s a critical need for new approaches and for developing personalised treatments with more efficacy and less side effects,” she said.

The findings were recently published in the journal Cancer Research.

Scientists involved in the international collaboration, which also included the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney and Peking University Cancer Hospital & Institute in Beijing, are expected to pursue further research and clinical trials.

Professor Daly’s laboratory is applying the novel approach to other cancers including Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

This news article was first posted on the Monash website.

In 2016, ACRF awarded Monash University a $1.2 million grant to support cancer research at the University. ACRF has also supported research at Garvan by providing three grants, in total $6.1 million, towards cutting edge cancer research technology.

Childhood cancers defy current understanding

Cancer is still surprising researchers, making the pathway to urgently-needed new treatments more difficult to predict. Researchers in Sydney have made an unexpected discovery that transforms our thinking about one of the ‘universal features’ of cancer.

A combined team of scientists from Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) and Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI) studied an aggressive category of neuroblastoma, which is the most common solid cancer of childhood.

For many years, the presence of a telomere lengthening mechanism has been considered essential for the growth of essentially all cancers. Dr Loretta Lau (SCHN) and Professor Roger Reddel (CMRI), who jointly led the research team and collaborated with Professor Michelle Haber’s team at Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI), have now shown this isn’t always the case. They found that 11% of high-risk neuroblastomas can keep growing without any method to lengthen their telomeres.

Telomeres can be found at both ends of all chromosomes, the bundles of DNA found in most cells. In normal cells, telomeres gradually become shorter, and this limits the number of times normal cells can multiply. In cancer, cancerous cells need to find a way to lengthen telomere DNA—to allow it to keep multiplying, and therefore for the cancer to keep growing.

Previously, researchers have believed that because something has gone wrong, probably during a child’s very early development, some cells have had abnormally long telomeres, so long that the cancer can keep on growing aggressively even though the cancer cells’ telomeres keep on shortening.

The new finding means that cancer biologists need to re-evaluate their understanding that the presence of a telomere lengthening process is a universal feature of cancer. Already, there is evidence from researchers in Belgium that a similar principle applies to melanomas, a common skin cancer which can also be very aggressive.

The study was recently published in Cell Reports.

In 2013, ACRF awarded CMRI $2 million in funding to develop the ACRF Telomere Analysis Centre. This funding was given to support an internationally unique consortium of telomere research groups to better understand the differences in telomere biology between normal and cancerous cells.

ACRF has supported cancer research at CMRI by awarding three research grants, in total $15.2 million, towards cutting edge research technology. ACRF has also awarded CCI three grants, in total $5.2 million.

This news post was originally published on the CMRI website.

ACRF Image-X Institute facility opened

ACRF supporting Australian cancer research projectsAn Australian first and one of four worldwide, the Ingham Institute’s MRI-Linac facility was officially opened on Monday. The facility combines an MRI scanner with a Linear Accelerator for research into cancer therapy and treatment.

Housed in the Ingham Institute’s high-tech research bunker located at Liverpool Hospital in Sydney, the new technology is set to improve the precision and accuracy of radiotherapy.

In 2014, ACRF provided a $2.5 million grant to establish the ACRF Image-X Institute. The MRI-Linac facility is a key part of the new Institute, which aims to revolutionise cancer imaging by creating new and better cancer imaging methods. The new facility pioneers the development of targeted radiotherapy where the x-ray beams are focused on the most aggressive and resistant cancers, increasing survival and reducing the chance of metastases.

Prof Ian Brown FTSE, Chief Executive, Australian Cancer Research Foundation said, “ACRF is dedicated to funding research in Australia that has the power to make significant breakthroughs in cancer diagnosis and treatment. The projects selected by ACRF for research funding are cutting edge and globally competitive.”

“Ingham’s MRI-Linac exemplifies the type of state-of-the-art technology that attracts ACRF’s support and ongoing investment in the pursuit of ways to prevent or more effectively treat cancer.”

Since its inception in 1985, ACRF has awarded more than $25 million in grants to research institutes located in Western Sydney.

Prof Michael Barton OAM, Research Director at the Ingham Institute said, “South Western Sydney is rapidly becoming the world centre of development of this pioneering cancer treatment technology; it is the next generation in cancer treatment as it will improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment for patients in our community, Australia and around the world.”

The facility was officially opened by the Hon. Craig Laundy MP, Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science and Federal Member for Reid NSW, on behalf of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt MP. The new facility has received support and funding from ACRF as well as the Federal Government.

Ann’s story: This is why cancer research is so close to my heart

Ann supports Australian cancer researchLoyal supporter, Mrs Ann Smith, is proud to be connected with ACRF and hopes that together we can put an end to the devastating effects of cancer.

I met my John in 1974 at our workplace in London. Relationships between staff were discouraged in those days so we kept it a secret until I left the company. We were both madly in love and we knew that we were meant to be together. We got married in 1975 because we couldn’t wait to start our life together.

We had an incredible holiday in Australia and we loved it so much we decided to migrate here in 1980. We found a beautiful family home where we lived happily for 36 years. We quickly made wonderful friends which I am happy to say I still have today.

John liked to stay busy and was a book-lover, so when he retired, he wrote three. He also volunteered in the book room at Lifeline, helping to cull, sort and price the books. He even organised the famous Northern Beaches Book Fairs. We travelled extensively – and celebrated our Ruby wedding anniversary by candlelit dinner at Uluru.

In 1993 I lost my dear twin sister, Rosemary, to breast cancer and it was heart-breaking, especially as she lived back in the UK. We got to share some special time together just before she died. Sadly, she left behind a husband and four small children.

When John was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I was devastated. I couldn’t bear the thought that he would experience what Rosemary had to. John was very courageous and was determined to go through treatment. Thanks to cancer research, there were various therapies that gave us more time, but unfortunately, they couldn’t cure him. He never complained and was always positive.

In December 2016, John passed away and it is still very hard to grasp he is gone.

John left me a great legacy. He was a fabulous organiser and was famous for his Excel spreadsheets. Before he got too sick, he bought us a beautiful new home that is much smaller and suits me perfectly. When we moved in, we would sit together on the patio drinking our morning coffee, sharing the crossword. It gives me great happiness to carry on this tradition each day, although I no longer get John’s helpful clues and have to tackle the crossword alone.

John was my soulmate and my best friend. He was a true gentleman, an awesome father, grandfather, brother and a loyal friend to all. A friend of ours once called him the Rolls Royce of husbands and I couldn’t agree more.

I am very happy to help end cancer through ACRF. At John’s funeral, we arranged donations in lieu of flowers. I also donate each month via direct debit, and with my daughters’ full support I have left a gift to ACRF in my Will.” – ACRF Supporter, Ann

A world without cancer could be the legacy you leave behind to your loved ones. When you leave a gift in your will to Australian Cancer Research Foundation, you provide some of the greatest minds in the world with the vital tools they need to uncover new ways to treat and prevent over 200 types of cancer. 

Learn more about leaving a gift  Share your story

New leukaemia treatment outperforms standard chemotherapies

Researchers at ANU are working on a new treatment for an aggressive type of leukaemia that outperforms standard chemotherapies.

Lead researcher Dr Nadine Hein from The John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU said researchers have successfully treated highly aggressive acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in mice using the new treatment.

“Not only have we been able to reduce the number of cancer cells, we have been able to reduce the number of cancer stem cells that tend to develop or be resistant to chemotherapy and are thought to be responsible for disease relapse in patients,” Dr Hein said.

Dr Hein said researchers used a compound known as CX-5461 to target the protein-making process within the cancer cells.

“We are working towards a treatment that will improve on the current chemotherapy options and improve the patient’s prognosis,” Dr Hein said

Around 1,000 people are diagnosed with AML in Australia each year and, depending on the patient’s age, there is a high rate of mortality with only about 30 percent surviving long term.

Canberra haematologist and ANU Senior Lecturer Dr James D’Rozario said the standard approach to treating AML hasn’t changed in over 30 years.

“Novel agents such as CX-5461 with more sophisticated mechanisms of action are desperately required to improve outcomes in patients with this group of illnesses,” Dr D’Rozario said.

Professor Ross Hannan, Head of the ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics at JCSMR, said that based on the promising preclinical results, a Phase 1 clinical trial for the treatment of patients with blood cancer has just been completed in Australia. Results are expected to be published later this year.

“Another Phase 1/ Phase 2 clinical trial is underway in Canada for the treatment of patients with solid tumours,” Professor Hannan said.

The research has been published in the journal Blood.

ACRF has supported cancer research at The John Curtin School of Medical Research by providing two grants, totalling $3.1 million, towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

The ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics was officially opened in February 2017.

TAX TIME DONATIONS

As we approach June 30th, there is a lot of talk about tax deductible and tax time donations. This is because if done correctly, making a tax deductible donation can have many benefits.

Read on to learn more about tax time donations.

Why make a tax time donation?

There are a number of benefits that come with making a tax deductible donation. Not only is making a tax time donation a great way to give back to a charity you are passionate about, but it also reduces your taxable income and as a result boosts your tax return. 

All donations that are $2 or more made to ACRF before June 30th will be tax deductible.

Make a donation to an organisation with the registered charity tick

This tax time ACRF would like to remind Australians to check the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) register and review financial documents to ensure that you are giving to transparent charities.

ACRF has received the registered charity tick. A stamp that is reflective of the standards to which ACRF proudly holds itself to. The charity tick initiative has been developed to give reassurance to donors that a charity is transparent and accountable by highlighting its presence on the ACNC Charity Register.

Where your tax deductible donation to ACRF will go

ACRF has awarded over $165M in 78 cancer research grants to 42 research institutes, universities and hospitals across Australia. Thanks to our supporters, these grants make a real impact by providing researchers across Australia access to state of the art technology which in turn speeds up research outcomes.

Throughout the year ACRF organises lab tours, openings of new facilities and the opportunity to meet the researches to allow supporters to see firsthand the impact that ACRF grants are having on research to prevent, detect and better treat cancer.

Each year we provided comprehensive details on our grant recipients and their projects. You can also read about the latest cancer research updates and outcomes of ACRF projects when they make breakthroughs.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation is committed to funding the technology that Australian scientists need to end all types of cancer, and we want you to know where your donations go.

We are proud to make our financial reports available to you annually and reports from the last ten years are easily accessible on our website. We invite you to review them when making your decision to donate.

Make a tax deductible donation to ACRF this tax time

Donations to ACRF help support some of the most impactful breakthroughs in cancer research. Still not sure how it benefits your finances? Learn more about how your tax deductible donation can help boost your tax return.

Make your tax time donation here and 100% of your gift before June 30 will go directly to cancer research.

New treatment hope for women with triple-negative breast cancers

Researchers at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne have shown, for the first time, that combining two immunotherapy drugs could be effective in treating triple negative breast cancers arising in women with BRCA1 mutations.

The findings suggest that clinical trials of combined immunotherapy should be considered in women with these breast cancers.
Immunotherapy, a relatively new form of cancer treatment, works by boosting the body’s immune cells to attack tumours and has previously showed promising results for treating melanoma and lung cancers.

The study, led by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Dr Emma Nolan, Professor Geoff Lindeman, Dr Daniel Gray and Professor Jane Visvader, and Peter Mac’s Associate Professor Sherene Loi and Associate Professor Phillip Darcy, has been published recently in Science Translational Medicine.

Professor Lindeman, also a medical oncologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter Mac, said triple negative breast cancers were more aggressive and more likely to recur than other breast cancers.

“Triple negative breast cancers have not seen the same improvement in targeted therapies, or survival, as some other types of breast cancer,” Professor Lindeman said.

“Our study showed that combining anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 immunotherapies with chemotherapy halted the growth of BRCA1-related tumours and significantly improved survival in laboratory models.”

Some cancer cells survive by hijacking and ‘switching off’ immune cells that would otherwise destroy the tumours. Anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 immunotherapies are so-called ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors’ that release the brakes on critical immune cells, enabling them to attack the tumour.

Dr Gray said previous research had shown that immunotherapy was particularly effective at treating tumours that had accumulated many mutations.

“BRCA1-related triple negative breast cancers have some of the most ‘chaotic’ genomes, and we see many immune cells accumulate in and around the tumour,” Dr Gray said.

“This suggests that the immune cells can readily detect that something is awry, but they aren’t able to respond properly, because they have been disabled by tumour cells.”

“We showed that a combination of anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 therapies restored their ability to attack and kill triple negative breast tumour cells, and very effectively control tumour growth.”

Associate Professor Loi, head of breast cancer clinical trials research at Peter Mac said work was already underway to translate these important findings from laboratory models of breast cancer into a clinical trial for women with the disease.

“Our lab-based findings provide compelling evidence to progress to a clinical trial of this combination of immunotherapy drugs, and chemotherapy, in women with BRCA1-related breast cancer,” Associate Professor Loi said.

“There is also a rationale to consider the same for BRCA2-related cancers and triple negative breast cancer more broadly.”

“Importantly, there are already a number of immunotherapy-based clinical trials underway in breast cancer and these two drugs – anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 – are in use for other cancers, so we would hope to begin a trial of this specific combination of immunotherapies in suitable breast cancer patients in the near future.”

This research was supported by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation amongst others. ACRF has awarded three grants towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology to WEHI, totalling $5.5 million. The Foundation has also supported cancer research at Peter Mac by providing three grants, totalling $7 million.

This news was first published on the WEHI website. Image of the research team courtesy of WEHI.

Image: Dr Daniel Gray, Professor Jane Visvader, Professor Geoff Lindeman, Associate Professor Sherene Loi and Associate Professor Phillip Darcy. Image courtesy of WEHI

Maddie and Tom support ACRF on their wedding day

Wedding donations to support Australian cancer research“I love picking out gifts for friends but there is nothing more special than the gift of giving, which is why Tom and I chose to support a charity on our wedding day.

It was a personal decision to select Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF). We chose this charity because my mum is alive today thanks to progress in cancer research and they are an organisation that has helped seed fund a number of great advances, such as the cervical cancer vaccine.

Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2012 but luckily they caught it early and were able to treat it. Even though her cancer has been removed, I know the experience impacted Mum deeply. The realisation of what could have killed her has left its own scar. I feel so lucky that Mum is still with us today.

Our families and friends all thought it was a great idea to support cancer research with donations on our wedding day. And why not? You can spend time making homemade jam or some other craft to serve as table favours. However, most of the time they are behind or they guests just never eat them. The more we can educate people about the importance of continued cancer research, the better.” – ACRF supporters Maddie and Tom

Know a couple like Tom and Maddie?

With many modern couples accumulating their household goods before they tie the knot, wedding donations are becoming increasingly popular.

The bride and groom to be can request donations in place of traditional gifts. Or replace favours or bonbonniere the same way. All funds received by ACRF in celebration will help fund new and better treatments for cancer. Click here to learn more.

Scientists find link between smoking and skin cancer

Cancer researcher Professor Whiteman

Scientists have found the strongest evidence yet of a link between smoking and a common form of skin cancer.

The team from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute studied nearly 19 thousand people and found that current smokers were significantly more likely to develop a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin than non-smokers.

It is the most comprehensive and highest-quality study that’s been conducted into the link between smoking and skin cancer. The findings have been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The study involved 18,828 Caucasian Queenslanders aged 40 to 69 who had never been diagnosed with a skin cancer. Ten per cent of the group were current smokers, 35 per cent were former smokers, and 55 per cent had never smoked.

Professor David Whiteman and his colleagues tracked how many common skin cancers the group developed over three years.

Squamous cell carcinoma more likely in smokers

“We found that current smokers were at significantly higher risk of SCC than former smokers or people who had never smoked,” Professor Whiteman said.

“In contrast, we found no evidence that smokers had higher risks of BCC than non-smokers.

“We also found that among the smokers and former smokers, their risk of skin cancer wasn’t affected by how long they’d smoked for, how heavily they’d smoked, or the length of time since they’d quit.

“We don’t yet understand how smoking might increase the risk of SCC, but these findings strongly suggest that by quitting, smokers are lowering their risk of SCC to the same level as someone who has never smoked. This is another good reason to quit.”

SCCs and BCCs are the most common forms of cancer worldwide. SCCs are generally more serious than BCCs.

While ultraviolet (UV) exposure is the biggest risk factor for developing these common skin cancers, these findings suggest that smoking could also play a role. A number of previous studies have examined the relationship between smoking and common skin cancers, but the findings to date have been conflicting and inconclusive.

Skin cancer on a mole
Image by Dr Richard Johns.

“Unlike previous studies, we controlled for a range of established risk factors including skin colour and history of sun exposure,” Professor Whiteman said.

“A consensus is starting to emerge that smoking has very different associations with SCCs and BCCs.

“There are several possible biological explanations as to how smoking might cause skin cancers, but none of those explains why it would apply only to SCCs and to current smokers.This is an area in which more research is needed.”

 

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

ACRF has supported cancer research at QIMR Berghofer by providing three grants, totalling AUD$ 6.65 M, for the purchase of cutting edge research equipment and technology.

This news post was first published on the QIMR Berghofer website. Image of professor Whiteman courtesy of QIMR Berghofer.

Gold standard technique for cancer research revealed by global study

Cancer research in AustraliaA research technique that is widely used to test new anti-cancer agents could be improved by adoption of a worldwide ‘gold standard’, according to a new study led by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists.

In the first research of its kind, 64 academic research programs in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia were surveyed to establish how they used a technique called ‘patient derived xenografting’ to grow and study cancer samples taken from consenting patients. The method is an important way that cancer researchers can undertake laboratory experiments such as the testing of new anti-cancer agents.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute cancer researchers Dr Kim Pham, Dr Gwo Yaw Ho and Associate Professor Clare Scott used the information from their study to develop a ‘gold standard’ for growing human cancer samples in the laboratory, considering both how the experiments are conducted as well as the governance of the use of human tissue in this system. Their research was published in a new book, Patient Derived Tumor Xenograft Models – Promise, Potential and Practice.

Dr Pham said patient derived xenografts were an important laboratory technique for studying human cancers in conditions mimicking the human body. “They are an important pre-clinical research tool that informs the future development of clinical cancer trials,” she said. “It is crucial that we have worldwide standards for patient derived xenografts to ensure research in this field can be reproduced and directly compared between laboratories.

“Our study uncovered considerable variability in how laboratories around the world undertook patient derived xenograft experiments. From this we have developed what we consider a ‘gold standard’, what would be the best practice in the area. The good news is that almost all the laboratories we surveyed had elements of best practice. The next step is for laboratories and organisations overseeing research to develop a process that ensures all laboratories work to the same gold standard,” she said.

Associate Professor Scott, who is also medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Women’s Hospital, said gold standard research could be achieved in some situations through research consortia bringing multiple organisations together to collaborate. “Improvements in reproducibility would enhance international collaborations, as well as accelerating preclinical research output,” she said.

“We were also able to establish guidelines for how this research can be optimally governed, particularly around questions of how permission for the use and transfer of human samples is governed. In the long term, improving this field of research will benefit people with cancer.”

Dr Ho said cancer research using patient derived xenografts was very expensive to conduct. “In Australia, despite the challenges of using this technique in a tight funding climate, we were pleased to find most research was conducted to a high standard,” he said.

“In the future, the involvement of Australian researchers in local or international research consortia could be a viable option for our researchers to continue to making important advances in preclinical cancer research.”

Dr Pham is a postdoctoral scientist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Dr Ho is a medical oncology fellow at The Royal Women’s Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and a PhD student enrolled at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute through the University of Melbourne’s Department of Medical Biology.

This article was first published on the WEHI website.

Rachel joined #imovebeCAUSE to support cancer research

Rachel joined #imovebeCAUSE to support cancer research in AustraliaACRF supporter, Rachel is tackling 200kms this June to fundraise for ACRF – with two small kids, this is no minor task! She is supporting cancer research in memory of her mum who passed away from cancer last year.

“I decided to take on #imovebeCAUSE and fundraise for cancer research in memory of my beautiful mum. She lived with myeloma for 10 years and passed away just before Christmas last year after being in the hospital for three long months. She is my reason! I want to fundraise through this great initiative so I can help others in her situation.

My mother was my best friend and my mentor. She was the bravest, strongest and most positive woman I have ever met. We had a very close relationship and I miss her every day.

Unfortunately, cancer has impacted me and my family a lot. Both my aunt and my mum passed away from cancer. And now my father in law currently has lymphoma. Family means everything to me, and cancer has taken away too many amazing people from us.

This is why cancer research is so close to my heart. It’s critical that we help put an end to all cancers. It’s a horrible disease that takes away way too many beautiful people and breaks people’s spirit. I hope that one day the world will be free of this awful disease, thanks to the amazing researchers who are working to make new discoveries and developments all the time.

I chose to fundraise for ACRF because I know that many new treatments and positive medical developments are made possible by wonderful ACRF supporters. ACRF is focused on trying to end all cancers. It’s important to me that all cancers are researched, not only the common and well-known cancers.

I would encourage others thinking about getting involved with the #imovebeCAUSE initiative to support cancer research because every donation counts. Big or small – it is making a difference and helping lifesaving research progress. Please support those who work so hard to try and better the lives of those who are living with cancer.

I’m so grateful for all the work ACRF does. It was heartbreaking seeing mum suffer, but one day in the future, thanks to cancer research fewer people will have to suffer.” – ACRF Supporter, Rachel

Sign up today to join Rachel and get moving in June to support research into all cancers.

Support Rachel Sign up now

One step closer to early detection of lung cancer

Australian cancer researcher, Clare Weeden, from WEHI, early lung cancer detection Cancer researchers at ACRF grant recipient, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne, have made a breakthrough that could help early lung cancer detection.

They’ve discovered cells which are thought to give rise to lung squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common subtype of lung cancer. This type of cancer primarily affects smokers and ex-smokers.

The study, led by Dr Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat and PhD student Ms Clare Weeden, aims to understand how cancer could form. Researchers used donated lung tissue to discover that, when they exposed isolated cells found in the airway of the lung to harmful chemicals, such as cigarette smoke, the cells would rapidly try to repair any damage and make errors in the process.

Dr Asselin-Labat said the team found that despite attempts to help the body repair from damage, the basal stem cell DNA repair process was faulty.

“Our team unearthed some of the first evidence that the basal stem cell DNA repair process is flawed. Pointing to the accumulation of DNA errors and genetic mutations that could eventually lead to cancer,” Dr Asselin-Labat said.

Further genetic analysis using a technique developed in the Institute’s bioinformatics department, confirmed a correlation between the genetic signatures of the lung-based basal stem cells and lung squamous cell carcinoma. This genetic data reinforces that lung basal stem cells could be the ‘seed’ from which a cancer is able to ‘grow’.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in the world and there is a link to squamous cell carcinoma for thirty percent of these cases, says Ms Weeden.

“Lung squamous cell carcinoma is a devastating disease with a poor prognosis. This is because these types of tumours are often discovered too late, at a point where the cancer is inoperable. Therefore, having the ability to detect this cancer early could be a real game-changer,” Ms Weeden said.

“The hope going forward, is that our work will be a gateway to new, tailored prevention and treatment measures for patients with lung diseases,” Ms Weeden concluded.

Despite being the leading cause of cancer death, lung cancer research currently only receives about 5% of cancer research funding in Australia.

This article was first published by WEHI and the image of Dr Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat and PhD student Ms Clare Weeden was provided courtesy of WEHI.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) has supported WEHI by providing three grants, totalling AUD 5.5 million towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology. ACRF has also provided three research grants, totalling AUD $ 9 million, to the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre for research into all cancers.

Kempsey Cancerian Committee’s gala dinner was a pearl of a night

Kempsey Cancerians supporting cancer research in Australia

The Kempsey Cancerians are the longest running Cancerian fundraising committee in the country and over the past 30 years, they have raised nearly $1 million to support Australian cancer research projects.

On May 20, the group hosted their 30th ‘Pearl Anniversary’ gala fundraising dinner. More than 280 people attended the dinner which was held at the Kempsey Macleay RSL and included raffles (including the very popular pearl box balloon raffle), a very entertaining auction, fantastic live music and wonderful meals by Chef Lloyd Newell.

The night was a great success and saw the committee raise over $24,000 for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

We would like to extend our thanks to all the committee members who helped organise this incredible event. Thank you also to the Kempsey Community for their support over the past 30 years – you are amazing.

We would also like to recognise some of the original sponsors who were there on the night – Peter and Lorraine Hadlow of Blyth and Hadlow; Paul and Lesley Cooney of Winsome Real Estate; Paul and Jan Stubbs of Sheridan & Stubbs; Patrick Sheridan; Jim and Chris Shaw of Hot n Tasty; John Scott of John Scott Promotions; Jenny Preston of GIO; David and Helen Parker; Sandra Walsh of Larry’s Pharmacy.

Our profound thanks to original Kempsey Cancerians Committee members who were also there on the evening – Helen Campbell, Brian Irvine, Darrell Crilley and original members who are still on the committee – Alison Mavin, Kay Irvine, Helen and Max Packwood for their decades of hard work and dedicated support of cancer research.

We look forward to seeing what amazing research breakthroughs will be made possible, thanks to the generosity of the people of Kempsey.

To view photos from the night visit the Kempsey Cancerian’s Facebook page here.

New cancer treatment targets from inside the cell

Laser microscopeResearchers at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) have found a promising small molecule cancer treatment in a pre-clinical study of breast cancer.

Associate Professor Mat Francois said the team developed a new approach to drug design. The new approach targets a molecular switch that was previously considered inaccessible.

“Current cancer treatments target elements on the outside of cancer cells. This limits our ability to control specific activity happening inside the cell,” Dr Francois said.

“Our new approach to drug design allows us to cross this barrier and get inside the cell. We do this by targeting the activity of transcription factors. These operate as a molecular switchboard inside cells and bind to DNA, turning gene expression on and off as needed.”

Dr Francois said the team demonstrated it could successfully use this approach to fine tune the cellular activity responsible for cancer-induced vessel growth, a key contributor to cancer metastasis.

“The small molecule we have discovered, Sm4, has shown it can target and switch off the activity of transcription factor SOX18. This controls the development of our blood and lymphatic vessels induced by cancer growth.”

“These vessels act as an on-ramp system to carry cancer cells throughout the body. Being able to block access to these vascular highways with the flick of a molecular switch is a critical step to limit cancer metastasis.”

A collaborative effort

In a pre-clinical study of breast cancer, performed in collaboration with QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Dr Francois said the team found that mice treated with Sm4 had significantly improved survival rates.

“Our results show that targeting the transcription factor SOX18 with a small molecule compound is a promising new molecular strategy to treat cancer metastasis.”

“High levels of SOX18 have also been associated with poor prognosis for cancer in human patients so it’s exciting to know that we have identified a small molecule inhibitor that could help improve cancer treatment.”

The study appears in eLife and involved research teams from Australia, the UK, the US and China.

The original news article on the discovery can be viewed on the IMB website.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported IMB by providing four grants, totalling AUD 7.1 million, towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology. The Foundation has also supported cancer research at QIMR Berghofer by providing three grants that amount to AUD 6.7 million.

Dave & Tess take on Nepal Himalayas for cancer research

Hiking for Australian cancer researchers

“In October 2017, Dave and I will be spending 23 days in the Nepal Himalayas as an adventure fundraiser for ACRF. We’re doing this extended trek in memory of Dave’s dad, Len. Len sadly passed away unexpectedly last year following investigations for a pancreatic tumour.

Len was such a welcoming and caring man. He felt like a second father figure to me from early on in my relationship with Dave. For Dave, Len wasn’t just his father, he was his supporter, friend, confidant, teacher and handyman! Len’s dedication to his family was paramount. He worked hard to show this until the end.

Dave has a large family so at times it can be chaotic but Len was always the sea of calm. He was laid back, warm-hearted and known for his goofy smile. Len also had a passion for the water – lakes, seas and oceans. He was a keen sailor and loved going to the beach to watch the ripples and waves.

Since Len’s passing, we’ve been wanting to do something to help improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer. Supporting research into this disease seemed to be the best way. Dave and I looked for an event that would challenge us physically. We both love travelling, hiking, camping, snowboarding – just about anything that gets us outdoors really so we chose to do an adventure fundraiser. During our trek through the Nepal Himalayas in October, we’ll be visiting the Mt Everest base camp, crossing three passes and ascending three peaks along the way.

Why we’re doing this for ACRF

David and I are no strangers to cancer as we are both doctors, currently working at Townsville hospital. Dave is training to be an emergency medicine specialist and I’m a general surgeon. ACRF is one of the leading organisations when it comes to contributing to cancer research, and has a reputation to match. Research is what provides medicine with the ability to understand, detect, diagnose and treat these diseases, and without that ongoing research, we can’t improve on what we already have.

Cancer highlights how unexpected life can be, how quickly things can change, and forces you realise that even those people in our lives that seem so permanent, strong and stable – like our parents – are mortal too. We miss you Len, your time with us was all too brief” – ACRF supporter Tess.

 

Tumour-trained T cells on the lookout for cancers

‘Tumour-trained’ immune cells – which have the potential to kill cancer cells – have been seen moving from one tumour to another for the first time. The new findings were uncovered by scientists at ACRF grant recipient, Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

The study has revealed that activated T cells are the main immune cell to leave tumours and that these T cells move to other tumours and lymph nodes. It, therefore, reveals how immune therapies for cancer might work and suggests new approaches to the development of anti-cancer immune therapies.

Metastatic cancer, in which cancer has spread to other sites beyond the primary tumour, is responsible for almost all cancer deaths, and treatment options remain very limited. New immune therapies that help the body’s own immune T cells to attack cancer cells within tumours are showing promise in metastatic cancer – yet little is understood about how these therapies function.

“We know that T cells and other immune cells accumulate inside tumours – but until now we’ve known very little about what happens next. How does the environment within the tumour change the cells? Do they leave the tumour? Which types of immune cells leave? Where do they go, and why?” said research leader Dr Tatyana Chtanova, head of the Innate and Tumour Immunology lab in Garvan’s Immunology Division.

Fluorescent immune cells provide clues

To watch ‘tumour-trained’ immune cells travelling through the body, Dr Chtanova and her team used an innovative ‘photoconversion’ strategy – in which all the cells in a mouse are labelled with a green fluorescent compound, and only those within a tumour (including immune cells) are turned to red by shining a bright light on the tumour.

“Before, we could only guess at which immune cells were leaving tumours,” said Dr Chtanova, “so to see these red cells moving in a sea of green, as they exited a tumour and travelled through the body, was remarkable.”

ex tumour immune cells
Ex-tumour immune cells (red) 

“We saw immune cells leaving the tumour and moving into lymph nodes – and, importantly, we could see immune cells moving out of one tumour and into another, distant tumour.”

The researchers were surprised to see that the mix of immune cells leaving tumours was sharply different to the mix of immune cells going in.

“We found, unexpectedly, that T cells were the main immune cells to exit tumours and move to lymph nodes and other tumours – even though they represent only a fraction of the immune cells that enter tumours,” Dr Chtanova said, “and some classes of T cell, such as CD8+ effector T cells which promote tumour destruction, were more likely to exit the tumour.”

“This tells us that there’s strong control over the tumour-exiting process.”

Tumour trained T cells stronger

Those T cells that had been exposed to the tumour’s ‘microenvironment’ and then exited the tumour were more activated and had a stronger cytotoxic (cell-killing) activity than those that did not enter the tumour.

“What we suspect is happening is that, within the tumour, these T cells are acquiring knowledge about the cancer that helps them to seek and destroy tumour cells.”

“It’s possible that these T cells ‘on patrol’ – which leave one tumour and move to another – are using their new-found knowledge to attack cancerous cells in the second tumour.”

The research team is now working on ways to prompt activated T cells to exit tumours in greater numbers.

“Ultimately, we’re working to understand more deeply the relationships between immune and cancer cells, so that we can design approaches to empower the immune system to destroy cancer,” Dr Chtanova concluded.

The study has recently been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

This news article was first published on Garvan’s website. Images courtesy of Garvan.

ACRF has supported cancer research at Garvan by providing three grants, totalling AUD $6.13million, towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.

New therapies in development to starve cancer cells

New cancer therapies for patients with some of the most difficult-to-treat cancers are now being developed following a major discovery by scientists in the ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre based at the Centenary Institute in Sydney.

These drugs block metabolic processes critical to cancer cells and are currently in the early stages of development.

Clinical trials are likely to commence within three years thanks to a recent new investment in this research, including a $2.5 M grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

Centenary’s scientists are focused on new treatments for patients suffering with cancers associated with very low survival rates and for which limited treatment options are available. Having revealed links between cancer and its metabolism of nutrients, they have developed a novel method of starving cancer cells – but not normal cells – essentially cutting the energy supply to the diseased cell.

The study led by Associate Professor Jeff Holst, Head of Origins of Cancer Program at Centenary Institute and Sydney University, revealed an important role for a protein involved in the metabolism of certain cancer cells that is vital for helping them survive and grow.

“If we are able to specifically block the supply of nutrients to cancer cells by inhibiting the function of this protein, we can essentially ‘starve’ the cells and stop them from growing”, Associate Professor Jeff Holst said.

In collaboration with University of Sydney researchers, the team has also been able to identify molecules that block the action of the protein and these are now being developed as possible new drugs. The new therapy will focus on translating the results of Associate Professor Holst’s research into drugs for testing in clinical trials.

The discoveries leading to the development of the new treatment have been published in Oncogene, International Journal of Cancer and Journal of Pathology.

ACRF has supported cancer research at the Centenary Institute by providing two grants, totalling AUD$ 7.5 M, for the establishment of the ACRF Centenary Cancer Research Centre and purchase of cutting-edge research equipment and technology.

Image: Assistant Professor Holst, Image courtesy of the Centenary Institute.

Jane, Maxine, and Shea are skydiving for cancer research

Skydiving for cancer research“It was utterly and totally devastating when my older sister died of cervical cancer. We were born three years apart and were always exceptionally close. More often than not, people assumed we were twins, and we had no problem with that! I think she would love that I went skydiving for cancer research.

I became her full-time carer when she was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, the recently developed cervical cancer vaccination was too late to help prevent my sister’s cancer. This is why I wanted to help researchers speed up discoveries and save lives.

Soon after my sister’s death, I decided I would fundraise for Australian Cancer Research Foundation by going skydiving. Two of my work colleagues, Shea and Jane, put their hands up to jump alongside me. Like me, they do something out of the ordinary every now and again to remind themselves that life is only lived once.

We call ourselves ‘The Gravity Girls,’ but it’s a bit of an in-joke because when we did the jump we were equally excited and petrified at the thought of leaving the plane. After we jumped, strangely enough, we actually wanted to do it again!

I will never stop missing my sister. When I did the big jump, I was thinking of her. I’m proud that I could do something for cancer research and help bring an end to all cancers. I’m confident in the progress researchers are making. I like to think that ending the threat of cancer could happen within my lifetime – what a bonus that would be!” – ACRF support, Maxine

We’d like to thank Jane, Maxine, and Shea for being brave and raising over $6K for ACRF. To show your support for ‘The Gravity Girls’ you can visit their Everyday Hero Page here.

New childhood leukaemia subtype found

Researchers at the Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI) in Sydney, together with collaborators in Prague, have found a new technique for tracking leukaemia cells containing a genetic change called BCR-ABL1.

The new DNA test has proven to be more accurate than standard Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) testing currently used for patients with BCR-ABL-positive leukaemia.

The new test has revealed a biological diversity amongst this high-risk subgroup – in about 20% of children with this gene change, their leukaemia cells resembled chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), the most common leukaemia in adults.

This discovery is surprising but important because treatment choices for CML can differ to those for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood cancer.

Knowing which children are part of this subgroup will allow clinicians to make better decisions about treatments to maximise effectiveness and minimise side effects. Current treatment options for BCR-ABL-positive leukaemia include drugs targeted directly at BCR-ABL1, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation.

A/Prof Rosemary Sutton is head of the MRD group and one of the authors. She says that while the number of children with this newly-identified type of leukaemia is low, she is enthusiastic about the implications of this study for their treatment.

“I’m most excited about our capacity to do our MRD testing in a new and different way to benefit children with BCR-ABL-positive leukaemia, particularly this CML-like subtype of ALL.

“Now that we can test for the BCR-ABL1 gene directly, it will help identify the best treatment options for children in this high-risk group,” she said.

The findings were announced in a research paper recently published online in the journal Blood.

The research was funded by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Cancer Council NSW.

This news was first published on the CCI website. Image: Jodie Giles (left) and Nicola Venn (right), research paper co-authors, look at DNA test results in the MRD lab, courtesy of CCI.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at the Children’s Cancer Institute by providing three grants, totalling AUD$ 5.2 M, for the purchase of cutting-edge research equipment and technology.

Leanne’s Story


 

“I met Scott in early December 2001, when I was a 19-year-old university student. I was out with a good friend when he and I noticed each other and started talking. By the end of the night, he asked for my number and a few days later we went on our first date. I was smitten.

Just after Christmas the same year, Scott left for a two week holiday with a few of his friends. While he was away we constantly sent text messages to each other. On New Year’s Eve, I was at a party when I messaged him to say that I wished he was with me so I could kiss him at midnight. The next day, he flew home early from his holiday so we could spend time together. He later told me this was when he knew he was in love.

Every spare moment we had, we spent together.

When I had my wisdom teeth removed I stayed at my parents’ place while I was recovering, which was over two hours away. Every day, Scott would drive up in the morning to spend time with me and then drive back in the afternoon to work as a chef. It was during one of these trips that I told him I loved him for the first time. I had never told anyone I had loved them before, and I was on top of the world. Scott was welcomed as a part of my family, and I had told my friends he was the man I was going to be with for the rest of my life.

In April 2002, Scott and I moved into our first place together. He spent hours teaching me the rules of AFL and cricket, which were his favourite sports. And while I was studying for my university exams, he would make me cups of tea.

We loved going to the beach together as we enjoyed the sunshine we would imagine what our lives together would look like, talking about when we would get married, how many kids we would have and what their names would be.

Two years later, I graduated from university – an accomplishment I would have struggled to achieve without Scott’s support. As a graduation present, he took me to Melbourne for the first time. While we were there we saw his beloved Hawthorn AFL team play. We also took a trip to Wooli together, where we sat on the rocks at the river mouth for hours, just watching the water, fishing and talking. I remember him telling me how he would love to retire somewhere like that.

Around July 2004, Scott’s knee became very sore and he was struggling to stand on his feet all night at work. He had also lost 10kg which he attributed to stress.

When a lump started growing in his leg above his knee he got scared and went to his GP looking for answers.

After numerous tests, he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare primary bone cancer that affects children and young people. They found a tumour in his leg that had already spread to his lungs. Later, the doctors told us they were unsure of how many tumours he actually had. At the age of 22, he had the fight of his life on his hands.

In late August 2004, Scott needed to have 12-18 weeks of chemotherapy. He suffered extreme pain in his leg and back throughout the treatment and often required morphine injections and oxygen to help him breathe.

There were so many things that we had to watch out for and monitor. I had to regularly check Scott’s temperature and take him to hospital immediately if it was above 38 degrees. He had to make sure to be very careful not to cut himself when he was shaving, as the chemo could stop his blood from clotting. He needed to take a number of medications at various intervals during the day so to help I wrote up a schedule of what medication had to be taken when. He would also bruise easily, have dizzy spells and get migraines. It seemed the list was never ending.

At times, it would all just get too much and he would cry for hours.

 

 

A few months later, in October 2004, things started to look up as the primary tumour in Scott’s leg was shrinking and he started feeling a little better. He even went to work for a couple of days. Our spirits were lifting and we talked more about what we would do when he went into remission.

But our hopes were quickly dashed a few weeks later when we were told the chemo wasn’t working.

The pain in his back and leg was getting worse and he found it increasingly difficult to breathe. The tumours we knew about were getting bigger and spreading.

We were told his cancer could not be cured but, hopefully, ongoing radiation treatments would shrink the tumours to give him more time – maybe a few years if we were lucky. The doctor said we would know if the treatment had worked within the next two weeks. If it didn’t, he wouldn’t have much time left.

Scott and I were devastated by this news and we wanted to get a second opinion. We couldn’t understand why nothing could be done to cure his cancer, but we vowed to not give up. We talked about things like getting married and travelling to see the world before it was too late.

On the day we had an appointment to get a second opinion, Scott was rushed to hospital with extreme back pain and a tingling sensation in his legs. MRI scans showed that tumours on his spine were pressing on his spinal cord and had cracked one of his vertebrae. He was given three high doses of radiation on his back over three consecutive days.

By the end of November, Scott was confined to his bed because he had lost all the feeling in his legs and could no longer support himself. The doctors told us the radiation had not been successful and that he would be lucky to live another week.

During Scott’s final days, I lived in the hospital with him. He spent lots of time with his friends and family during that time as well. I will never forget the memory of his young, fit and healthy friends, crying and supporting each other in the hallways of the hospital.

We celebrated our three year anniversary in the hospital.

I was in a chair beside Scott when he lowered his bed as if he was getting down on one knee, and he presented me with an engraved eternity ring, asking if he could be mine for eternity.

Scott’s tumours had continued to spread and were now visible even on his face. As the days went on, he was on so many pain medications that he rarely woke up, and on the occasions he was awake, he was hallucinating, on one occasion he believed it was our 50th wedding anniversary.

During one of our last conversations, Scott was feeling sad about his imminent passing and worried that people would forget him. I promised him I would never let that happen.

Scott continues to be my guide through life.

On the night of Christmas Eve 2004, I laid in the bed beside Scott so I could hold him all night. I guess I knew it would be for the last time.

We spent Christmas morning with family crowded around Scott’s hospital bed. I sat beside him all day, holding his hand. At around 3pm, I left the room to talk to some family members. Before leaving, I kissed him on the forehead and told him I loved him and I’d be back soon. I felt his heart beat and it was very weak.

Half an hour later, Scott passed away as an afternoon storm rolled in. We believe he chose his moment to move on, as he had hoped he would get the chance to see a storm one last time.

His family and I comforted each other as we had a drink in his honour on the balcony of the hospital and watched the storm fade away. It’s been 12 years now and every Christmas at 3.30pm I still share a drink with my family in his memory.

Saying goodbye to Scott and leaving the hospital for the last time without him was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. He was farewelled on New Year’s Eve 2004, and is buried with a photo of us on his heart.

Leanne and her family 2017

 

I consider myself lucky to have known Scott. He was such an important part of my life and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.

Scott taught me what life and love are about and showed me real happiness. He encouraged me to never give up, achieve my goals and follow my dreams. Rarely does a day pass where he does not cross my mind. His memory reminds me to never take things for granted, to make the most of every day and appreciate every moment.

I have made it my life goal to continue fundraising for cancer research in his memory and ensure his legacy lives on.” – ACRF supporter, Leanne

Leanne wouldn’t be who she is without Scott, and cancer research wouldn’t be where it is without you. 

Two melanomas that aren’t linked to UV radiation

The genetic study, led by Australian researchers at Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA), QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and The University of Sydney as part of the Australian Melanoma Genome Project, has found that melanomas on the hands and feet (known as acral) and internal surfaces (known as mucosal) are not linked to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This is in contrast to melanoma of the skin, which is strongly related to UV radiation.

The research shows that acral and mucosal have different causes to skin melanoma. This has implications for preventing and treating these forms, which occur worldwide.

“This is by far the largest study to have looked at the whole genome, and it has proven these less common cases are strikingly different in terms of their causes,” said Professor Richard Scolyer, Conjoint Medical Director of MIA and a lead author.

Every year in Australia, up to 420 people are diagnosed with acral or mucosal melanomas. They affect people of all ethnic backgrounds and are the most common forms of the disease in people with very dark skin. These forms often behave more aggressively, are harder to diagnose and have a poorer outcome compared to skin melanoma.

Melanoma type helps find the right treatment

Treatment for skin melanoma has advanced rapidly in recent years, with therapies tripling the life expectancy of some advanced patients. For the first time, this research sheds light on why revolutionary treatments—many of which have been pioneered at MIA — don’t work as well for acral or mucosal melanomas.

“Acral and mucosal melanomas occur all over the world, but they have been even more challenging to treat than skin melanoma,” said Professor Nicholas Hayward, a lead author from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

“Knowing these are really different diseases to skin melanoma is important for the development of future therapies.”

The study also found acral and mucosal melanomas have much less gene damage compared with skin melanoma and the damage ‘footprints’ did not match those of any known causes of cancer, like sun exposure. This means we must target new research to discover what is causing these cancers, and what can prevent them.

While they had fewer gene drivers that could be targeted for therapy, new ones were found. Some mucosal melanomas unexpectedly had mutations in the SF3B1 and GNAQ genes, which had previously only been connected to melanoma of the eye.

Understanding which gene mutations are driving an individual tumour is the basis of personalised cancer medicine. This is the first study to survey the entire DNA sequence of melanomas, not just the genes themselves, giving 50 times more information than in previous work. Many genes were found to have damage in their control regions, the so-called ‘dark matter’ of our genome, and these may be previously unsuspected drivers.

“This is a world-leading genetic analysis of melanoma,” said Professor Graham Mann, a lead author at MIA.

“We are working hard now to turn these discoveries about the uniqueness of acral and mucosal melanoma, and about the new control mutations, into better results for our patients.”

The research has been published in the journal Nature.

New pathway for blood cancer therapies

ACRF supports Australian cancer research at Peter MacCullum Cancer CentreCancer researchers at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Monash University in Melbourne have identified how a new class of epigenetic drug engages with the immune system to kill off blood cancer cells.

The research, published in journal Cell Reports, has demonstrated the potential of combining ground-breaking epigenetic and immune-based treatments for improved results.

The experiments showed that immune-competent mice with lymphoma had a far greater response to BET-inhibitors than their immune-deficient counterparts. BET-inhibitors are a relatively new class of cancer treatment, which work to ‘switch off’ important cancer-causing genes expressed within tumour cells.

In addition to the improved response, the research showed that BET inhibitors were able to ‘switch off’ a protein called PD-L1 which is used by tumour cells to hide from the immune system.

Through this mechanism, BET-inhibitors were making tumour cells more sensitive to attack from the immune system.

The power of an activated immune system in eliminating tumour cells has been proven through successful drugs such as Keytruda and Opdivo, which also target the PD-L1 pathway.

Building on this knowledge, Melbourne researchers confirmed that the combinations of BET-inhibitors with other immune therapies work better in lymphoma than either therapy alone.

Based on laboratory research performed at Peter Mac, the Monash team is currently trialling a combination of different epigenetic drugs. They are combining Dinaciclib with the anti-PD1 therapy, Keytruda, in relapsed lymphoma, myeloma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Further clinical trials for the combination therapy are likely to emerge as a result of this research.

This article was first published on the Peter Mac website, image courtesy of Peter Mac.

To date, ACRF has awarded in total $AUD 8.2 million to support cancer research at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Monash University.

Shanuki says goodbye to her long hair for a great cause

Shave, cut our colour your hair to support Australian cancer research“Each year I try to give some of my time to a great cause. Last year, I volunteered as a buddy at a camp that helps kids affected by cancer. It aims to take children’s minds off of the hospitals and treatments. While I was spending time with these families, I thought a lot about what it would be like to put an end to the suffering that cancer causes. It motivated me to continue my yearly ritual so no more families would have to go through this ever again.

That same year I witnessed a wave of cancer diagnoses. Sadly, a work colleague of mine and several family friends passed away. While I consider myself lucky to have had none of my immediate family diagnosed with cancer, it seems to be happening all around me. My husband’s already lost an aunt to breast cancer and another one of his aunts was recently diagnosed.

I’m shocked by the sheer number of people affected by cancer. I feel we should all do what we can to help eradicate or at least control the effects of this disease. I believe better prevention and treatments will only come about through research which is what led me to Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

When I went searching for more information about fundraise funds for Australian Cancer Research Foundationing cancer research discoveries I came across ACRF. I discovered that they’re a charity that supports research into all cancers and they help fund projects across Australia. After speaking with a staff member, I decided to support their efforts with my own fundraising event. I decided to donate my waist-long hair and help raise funds for Australian Cancer Research Foundation. My hair hasn’t been short since I was five years old so I was quite nervous about it.

Throughout the fundraising process, the love and support from family, friends and colleagues was amazing.

I also found that fundraising provided an opportunity for people to start a dialogue about personal experiences relating to cancer. A family friend is now looking into how she can help her daughter cut and donate her hair just like I did.

Learning how to style my new short hair is challenging but with the help of YouTube tutorials, I’m getting there. I’m actually really enjoying the change. I’ve discovered that a shower cap stays on so much better without a kilo of hair under it!” – ACRF supporter, Shanuki