It’s not all in their DNA: cancer cells with the same genome can behave differently

For the first time, research has shown cancer cells with the same genetic blueprint won’t necessarily behave in the same way, with serious implications for how we target them.

A Peter Mac-led study demonstrating these non-genetic changes in acute myeloid leukaemia cells, was published today in Nature.

Joint first author Dr Katie Fennell says: “We developed a novel cellular barcoding technology that can track individual cancer cells over time and identify patterns that lead to different cell behaviour – even when the underlying genome is the same.”

This barcoding technology (dubbed SPLINTR, which stands for Single-cell Profiling and LINeage TRacing) helps the researchers to identify the unique genes expressed in each leukaemia cell, and monitor how this influences the cancer’s behaviour over time. They can then observe which acute myeloid leukaemia cells are most likely to form cancerous tumours.

Whilst this study is in acute myeloid leukaemia, the technology can be applied to many different cancers, presenting an opportunity to understand why some tumour cells survive drug treatment or relapse in specific organs.

Drug resistance and tumour recurrence are major barriers to the successful treatment of cancer, and often arise from rare populations of tumour cells, which can be difficult to monitor in the clinic.

“Our study highlights the power of using SPLINTR to not only identify these rare tumour subpopulations, but also to find novel therapeutic targets and/or biomarkers to monitor them clinically,” says joint first author Dr Dane Vassiliadis.

“This work challenges the dogma that precision medicine is just about finding new genetic mutations,” says senior author on the paper Professor Mark Dawson.

While all precision medicine aims to tailor treatment to the unique features present in a patient’s cancer, thus far these approaches have exclusively focused on the unique DNA mutations present.

However, recent studies show that up to 40 per cent of tumours that relapse after initially responding to treatment show no evidence of new gene mutations in the cancer cells to account for this therapy resistance.

This study highlights the importance of broadening the ambition of precision medicine beyond just surveying a patient’s DNA mutations.

“This is only one side of the coin. We urgently need to understand and develop treatments to also counter the non-genetic factors that influence cancer cell behaviour,” says Dr Vassiliadis.

The research was done in collaboration with academic partners at The University of Melbourne, WEHI, the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and UNSW.

For more information contact the Peter Mac Communications team on 0417 123 048.

About Peter Mac

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is a world-leading cancer research, education and treatment centre and Australia’s only public health service solely dedicated to caring for people affected by cancer.

Illustration by Eric de Vries, Peter Mac. This article was originally published on the Peter Mac website. ACRF has backed $10.8M of brilliant research at Peter Mac.

How to leave a gift to charity in your Will

A growing number of Australian’s are leaving a gift to charity in their Will. A gift in Will, also known as a bequest, is the donation you make when you include a portion of your estate, to a charity in your Will.

What can I donate to a charity in my Will?

There are many different assets that you can leave as a gift in your Will including:

  • Cash, stock and bonds.
  • Real estate properties and land.
  • Personal property, like a car, jewellery or artwork.
  • Non-probate asset, like your life insurance policy or superannuation account.

When is a good time to leave a gift in Will?

It is never too early to start thinking about leaving a gift in your Will. At the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) we know that cancer, and other terminal illnesses, can be unpredictable.

It’s important to think about how to safeguard your assets and plan so that your final wishes will be fulfilled when you pass away.

What are the steps involved in leaving a gift to charity in my Will?

Including a gift in your Will is simple, and if you choose a charity like ACRF, there is a dedicated team to help you every step of the way. The steps of leaving a gift in your Will include:

Step 1: Contact the charity you would like to leave a gift in Will to discuss any questions you may have about leaving a gift in your will.

Step 2: Call your solicitor and make an appointment to create or update your Will to include a bequest.

Step 3: Based on the call with your solicitor, update the wording of your Will. Please see ACRF’s Will wording below as an example:

“I give to the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACN 002 774 727) of Suite 903, 50 Margaret Street, Sydney for the purposes of funding world-class cancer research, free from all taxes and duties, (here please specify your gift, eg. the sum of $X). I direct that the receipt of any director or other proper officer for the time being of that Foundation will be a sufficient discharge to my Trustees”

Step 4: Tell your loved ones what you have outlined in your Will. It’s important they are aware of your wishes. If you decide to include a bequest to ACRF, let us know, we’d love to connect over your generous donation, and find out if there’s anything we can do to support you.

What if I don’t have a Will?

If you do not have a Will, but are looking for an efficient and affordable way to create a simple Will that reflects your wishes, book in to attend one of ACRF’s community Wills Days. ACRF is hosting community Wills Days throughout March (NSW), May (QLD) and September (SA). For just $75 for an individual or $100 for a couple, a legal professional will provide a one-on-one consultation to draft a simple Will. For more information and bookings, visit our website. There is no obligation to leave a gift to ACRF in your Will, though should you choose to do so we would be very humbled. All fees will go toward backing brilliant cancer research.

How do I choose a charity to leave a gift in my Will to?

Leaving a gift in your Will is the legacy you will leave behind to future generations, so it’s important to consider your choice wisely. Of course, the decision to which charity you would like to leave a gift in your Will to is a personal choice, and one that must be considered carefully.

Often people who choose to include a gift to ACRF in their Will have lost a loved one to cancer or have been diagnosed with cancer themselves. They know first-hand the devastating impact cancer can have on people’s lives. These people have become our champions, as new and improved methods to detect and treat cancer would not exist if wasn’t for them.

Why should I leave a gift in my will to ACRF?

At ACRF, we know only brilliant ideas can tackle something as big as cancer. That is why we give scientists the technology, equipment and infrastructure they need for pioneering research.

ACRF bequestors have backed landmark projects such as the development of the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine. The vaccine protects against nine HPV types which are the cause of around 90% of cervical cancers in women. Now decades on, and thanks to a national immunisation program, Australia is set to be the first country to effectively eliminate the disease.

Your gift will go toward ensuring that future generations have better access to life-saving cancer detection, prevention and treatment.

Who do I contact about leaving a gift in my will to ACRF?

For more information on how you can leave a gift in your Will, download our Bequest Booklet or contact ACRF, by phoning 1300 884 988 ​or emailing bequest@acrf.com.au.

A deep dive into Australia’s most dangerous skin cancer – melanoma

Despite sun safety messages, melanoma rates are growing in Australia, with the deadly disease killing more Australians each year than road accidents.

For this 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.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes – a cell that produces and contains the pigment called melanin. Melanoma tumours can vary in colour and appearance. They are usually brown or black, but they can also appear pink, tan or even white. 

Melanoma is much less common than Basal Cell and Squamous Cell skin cancers. However, it is far more dangerous as it is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body if it’s not caught early.

What causes melanoma?

Melanoma is generally caused by an overexposure of UV radiation. Each time the skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds, changes take place in the structure of cells. Too much radiation causes the skin to become permanently damaged.

How do I prevent melanoma?

You can lower your risk of developing melanoma by following some sun safety tips:

  • Avoid exposing your skin to the sun, and don’t tan!
  • Wear protective clothing like long sleeve shirts and wetsuits in the water.
  • Wear sunscreen every day, even if it’s overcast. A broad-spectrum spf 30+ sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UVB rays should be reapplied every 2 hours when your skin is exposed to sun.
  • Avoid peak times of 12pm-2pm when the sun is at its highest, find a shady spot during this time.

What are the symptoms of melanoma?

Keep an eye out for a new spot on the skin or one that has changed in size, shape, or colour. Other signs to look for are:

  • One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • The edges of the mole are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • The colour of the spot is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • The spot is larger than 6mm across, although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • The mole has changed in size, shape, or colour.

The most common locations for melanomas are the chest and back for men, and legs for women. The face and neck are also common places for melanoma to appear, however they can form anywhere on the body.

How can I get checked for melanoma?

If any of the above symptoms sound like a spot or mole on your body, it’s important to get a skin check as soon as possible. Your doctor can perform a skin check and refer you to a dermatologist if a spot looks suspicious. New and innovative technology melanoma technology is helping to catch melanoma early, vastly improving treatment outcomes for patients.

One advancement in this area is the Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis (ACEMID), funded by a $10 million ACRF grant in 2019. ACEMID aims to reduce the annual melanoma death toll by using sophisticated 3D imaging systems to produce whole-body scans that can be monitored over time. These scans create patient ‘avatars’, enabling melanoma to be detected earlier .

In addition to the $10 million of ACEMID funding, ACRF has provided seed funding of $5 million to Westmead Institute for Cancer Research for the construction of 2 word-class melanoma research laboratories in 2011.

New melanoma research facilities and technology are innovating the way we prevent, detect and treat melanoma, and ultimately saving lives. Your support is integral in bringing us closer to a world without cancer. Help back brilliant cancer research by donating today

ACRF’s Christmas Appeal is giving people a future beyond cancer

For this year’s Christmas Cancer Appeal, ACRF is sharing Simon’s story. In August 2019, Simon was living a happy life. He had a successful career in advertising, a daughter Holly who was the centre of his world, and he had just found love again with Carli.

Simon went to see his doctor for a suspected stomach ulcer and, after a series of tests, in September 2019 just before Christmas, Simon was diagnosed with late-stage Oesophageal cancer. When Simon’s Oncologist told him that cancer was a race he likely wouldn’t finish, it came as a huge shock. 

A window of hope

Miraculously, the doctors found the cancer before it had spread to Simon’s other organs. In a trial of endurance, his treatment team hit the cancer with the highest dose of chemo possible to stop the cancer from spreading. Following chemo,  Simon underwent surgery to remove the tumour and re-construct his oesophagus. It is thanks to this state-of-the-art treatment, guided by cancer research of the last 10 years, that Simon is still here to spend another Christmas with his family. 

Simon in hospital celebrating Christmas

Accelerating the pace of cancer research

With a $2 million grant, provided thanks to ACRF supporters, the ACRF Detector at the Australian Synchrotron is accelerating the development of potential treatments for people with cancer. 

The ACRF Detector enables researchers to gain answers much sooner, shortening the time from laboratory research to clinical testing of new cancer drugs. Australians diagnosed with cancer are the first to benefit from this ground-breaking research initiative.

 “The ACRF Detector is a vital piece of equipment for cancer and medical research in Australia. It shows the three-dimensional structure of proteins, which do most of the work in cells, identifying opportunities to neutralise those involved in cancer and promote those that may protect us from cancer”

– Dr. Ian Brown, ACRF Chief Scientific Officer

ACRF Detector at the Australian Synchrotron

How your donation will make a difference

By supporting ACRF you are backing brilliant projects that push boundaries and blaze new trails. Our supporters donations give scientists the technology, equipment and infrastructure they need to accelerate the pace of life-saving research into all types of cancer. 

Help to create futures for more people like Simon by donating to ACRF. 100% of your donation before 31 December 2021 will go to cancer research.

How to donate to charity this Christmas

Making a charity donation in lieu of Christmas gifts or cards is a great way to give back and spread the festive cheer. Every donation, no matter how big or small, can make a world-changing difference. So if you’ve chosen to give to a charity this Christmas, thank you!

We know picking a charity to donate to can be challenging. To help you choose a charitable cause this Christmas, we’re sharing a few tips and tricks:

Use causes your passionate about as a guide

What causes are you most passionate about? You don’t have to pick just one! Start by writing a list of all the ideas, purposes or interest areas you feel closely aligned with. For example, your list could be:

  • Cancer research
  • Health and wellness 
  • Education 

Once you have a list of the causes you are passionate about, order your list starting with those which resonate with you most. If there is a cause that stands out to you, select this one, or if there are multiple, choose the top 1-3.

Pick a charity, or charities, to support

To make an informed decision about what charity, or charities, to support, we recommend doing some desk research! Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission (ACNC), the regulatory body for charities in Australia, has a database of charities you can search to find ones that align with your passion points. For example, this is ACRF’s profile on the ACNC Charity Register. The database provides transparent information about a charities history and financial track record, so you can make an informed decision, as you would do any investment. Independent websites like charitynavigator.org and charitywatch.org can help you decide on a charity to support with their unbiased ratings.

Set a donation budget 

Now that you have your chosen charity or charities, think about how much you would like to give. If you don’t have a large amount to give right now, but you’d still like to make a difference, you might want to consider regular giving. Most charities, like ACRF, have an option to set up regular giving from as little as $1 a month. Use a budget planner to find out how much money you have available to give each month, and then allocate spend based on your list. For example:

Total giving budget per month ($40)

  1. Cancer research – Australian Cancer Research Foundation $20
  2. Human rights – United Nations $10
  3. Animal welfare – PETA $10

Make your donation!

Once you’ve allocated your budget, it’s time to make the donation/s. Most charities, like ACRF, have an easy to use and intuitive donations portal where you can set up the donation amount and frequency. You also have the option to sign up for regular news and updates, to stay up to date with  the great work charities do, and the outcomes you help to fund.

In addition to making a positive impact on peoples’ lives, Christmas charity donations can also boost your next tax return! At ACRF, for example, all donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.

Why give to ACRF?

The charity, or charities, that you decide to give to are completely up to you. But if you stumbled on this article, it’s likely that cancer research is a cause you feel closely aligned to. Sadly ,1 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and the remaining 2 will be closely affected by a diagnosis. It’s a deadly problem that needs disruptive solutions, starting with pioneering research. You can read all about ACRF-funded cancer research projects here.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) is a leading independent charity. With the support of our generous donors, we fund the technology, equipment and infrastructure researchers need for brilliant cancer research. Help us back brilliant by donating to ACRF.

New treatment for Australians with leukaemia

From 1 December 2021, Australians with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) will have access to a new treatment option on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

From 1 December 2021, Australians with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) will have access to a new treatment option on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The Morrison Government is expanding the list of Venclexta® (venetoclax) for the treatment of AML, for use in combination with azacitidine.

AML is a type of cancer that appears suddenly and grows quickly. AML occurs when immature white blood cells called blasts become cancerous. These abnormal blast cells are known as leukaemia cells.

Because the leukaemia cells are immature and abnormal, they don’t carry out the usual infection-fighting role of white blood cells. In AML, changes in these cells prevent them from turning into mature blood cells, resulting in too many of them and too few mature blood cells, platelets and other white blood cells in the blood.

Venclexta® targets and blocks the action of a specific protein within leukaemia cells called BCL-2. Blocking this protein helps to kill and reduce the number of cancer cells, and may slow the spread of the disease.

In 2021, almost 5,000 Australians were diagnosed with leukaemia. In Australia, it is estimated that around 1,100 people are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) each year. AML becomes more common with age and mostly occurs after 65.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said having access to Venclexta®, which is already listed on the PBS for other conditions, will give AML sufferers more treatment options and better outcomes.

“Around 340 Australian patients a year will benefit from this expanded listing, who without the PBS subsidy would may more than $88,800 per course of treatment. From 1 December, they’ll pay $41.30 per script or $6.60 with a concession card,” Minister Hunt said.

“Since 2013, the Coalition Government had approved more than 2,800 new or amended listings on the PBS. This represents an average of around 30 listings or amendments per month – or one each day – at an overall investment by the Government of $14 billion.

“Our Government’s commitment to ensuring Australians can access affordable medicines, when they need them, remains rock solid.”

This PBS listing has been recommended by the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

This article was originally published on the Australian Government, Department of Health website.

Revolutionary 3D imaging maps how breast cancer spreads

WEHI researchers have developed enhanced imaging technology that can model how breast cancer cells invade and spread into bone and remodify themselves to fuel tumour growth.

The team found that tumour spread occurred at specific locations in the bone, not randomly as previously thought. They also showed that breast cancer cells ‘renovate’ the bone to create an environment that fuels their spread, while starving the body of essential nutrients.

Using WEHI’s Centre for Dynamic Imaging, the research team took hundreds of images to create three-dimensional (3D) models of the bone marrow and the blood vessels that run through them – some as tiny as a fraction of a micron. These images were used to better understand why breast cancer cells metastasise (spread) into bone, and what factors facilitate their growth.

The research was led by Dr Raymond Yip, Associate Professor Edwin HawkinsProfessor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader, with colleagues at WEHI. It was published in Nature Communications.

At a glance

  • Researchers developed cutting-edge 3D technology to map how breast cancer cells invade and spread into secondary sites in the bone.
  • They found tumour spread occurred at specific locations in the bone, where breast cancer cells ‘remodel’ the bone to create an environment that fuels its growth.
  • The research could help to guide development of new therapies for patients suffering from cancers that typically spread to the bone, including breast cancers and prostate cancers.

Radical renovation

Bone marrow is one of the most common sites of metastasis in people with breast cancer. Spread of cancers to secondary organs, such as the bone, is often incurable, and breast cancer patients with bone metastases typically have a very poor prognosis.

Dr Yip said the research provided a fascinating insight into how cancer cells colonise the bone marrow, by mapping out the vessels and the tumour structures next to them.

“We think of bones as these static, structural organs – but they’re highly dynamic”, he said.

“Our research shows breast cancer cells preferentially reside near a specific blood vessel subtype in the bone called the type H vessels. In other words, breast tumour cells selectively home to a specialised vasculature, suggesting type H vessels are supplying certain growth factors to nurture breast cancer cells growth in bone.”

Associate Professor Hawkins said the idea that cancer cells can remodel their environment isn’t new, however it hadn’t been explored in a “tricky organ” like bone marrow until now.

“What Raymond showed us through his incredible 3D images is that a tumour cell will move to the bone marrow and completely renovate that home” Associate Professor Hawkins said.

“We saw that when breast cancer cells metastasise to the bone marrow, they release tumour-derived growth factors that enable them to ‘remodel’ to create a favourable environment that further facilitates their growth – unfortunately at the detriment of the whole body.”

By delving into the symbiotic relationship between our host bodies and these tumour cells, the researchers hope their discoveries can one day lead to a better understanding of mechanisms that these cells work with that can make them easier to treat or prevent tumour spread.

Cancer treatment enhancements

While breast cancer patients are the focus of the current research, spread of tumours to the bone is common in other cancers, including prostate, lung, kidney and thyroid cancers and melanoma.

Professor Visvader said these mechanisms could be a target for future therapeutic discovery.

“Cancer therapeutic discovery has expanded considerably over past decades to not only target the cancer cells directly, but also the mechanisms used by cancer cells to enhance their growth,” she said.

“It will be important to further understand the mechanisms by which tumour cell-derived factors remodel blood vessels, as this could help define new therapies for patients in the future. We also hope to take this innovative 3D imaging technique we have developed and extend it to other diseases that involve bone metastases.”

The research was supported by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Victorian Government.

WEHI authors

Raymond Yip, Joel Rimes, Bianca Capaldo, François Vaillant, Kellie Mouchmore, Bhupinder Pal, Yunshun Chen, Elliot Surgenor, Gordon Smyth, Geoff Lindeman, Edwin Hawkins, Jane Visvader.

This article was originally posted on the National Tribune Website. The AH&MRC has backed $9M of brilliant research at WEHI.

Could Australia become the first country to eliminate cervical cancer? Experts say it’s possible

Stephanie Steer always had regular cervical screenings.

But just four months after the healthy and active young woman had her last screen, she noticed some changes in her body that she couldn’t explain.

So, she asked a specialist to investigate. 

“Lucky I did that because they came back with some things and I was in emergency surgery a week later,” Ms Steer said.

They found an extensive amount of abnormal, or precancerous, cells across her cervix.

Stephanie is now fine, but said early detection was key.

“If I went without detecting this and going untreated, it could have been a matter of years where … I could have been dead without even knowing why.”

Almost all cervical cancer is caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV). So, if doctors can identify the virus in a patient early, they can typically prevent it from developing into cervical cancer.

Now, the federal government has set aside $5.8 million to help reach its goal of eliminating cervical cancer in Australia by 2035.

Self-collection kits to be a ‘game changer’

It’s a goal likely to be achieved thanks to Australia’s good cervical screening program, a high uptake of the HPV vaccine by school aged boys and girls, and good treatment options for women who do develop HPV.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the funding would support the Australian Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer (ACPCC) to help develop a National Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy by the end of 2022.

ACPCC’s chief executive, Marion Saville, said the strategy would involve looking at ways to break down cultural and social barriers that prevent women from accessing traditional cervical cancer prevention programs.

Australian Centre for the Prevention of Cervical Cancer executive director Marion Saville says the strategy will break down cultural barriers. (Supplied )

Because, while Australia’s cervical cancer progress is one of the best in the world, there is still inequality.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are four times more likely to die from cervical cancer than non-Indigenous Australian women. Changing that will be key to Australia’s success.

“Historically, access to screening has not been great for a number of communities,” Professor Saville said.

“That’s partly because of where they live, partly because of involvement with primary health services, but I think, principally because the pelvic exam with the speculum and collection of those cells from the cervix is just something that a range of groups find just too much vulnerability.

“The opportunity to have self-collection … I think, is going to be a game-changer.”

Cervical screenings test for HPV, which is the cause of about 90 per cent of all cervical cancers. Routine screening is available through Medicare every five years for anyone with a cervix aged between 25 and 74 years.

But, from July 1 next year, anyone with a cervix will be offered a self-collection kit. The kits have been available since 2017, but only for certain women over the age of 30.

The kits contain a vaginal swab which does not have to be inserted as far as the swab used in a regular pelvic exam and there is no speculum, which is a device used to help a medical practitioner reach the cervix.

In most cases, the exam will still need to be conducted in a healthcare setting, but the patient can take their own swab and can do so from behind a curtain or from the privacy of a bathroom.

Lisa Whop is an epidemiologist and chief investigator on the Centre for Research Excellence on Targeted Approaches To Improve Cancer Services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. She thinks progress to close the gap can be made.

“The way the current program is set up, it’s not culturally accessible to a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Dr Whop said.

She thinks self-collection kits will lead to significant change.

“The evidence indicates that self collection is highly acceptable for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations,” she said.

“People want agency control over the type of screening they get, whether that be by their clinician or by a self collection.”

She attributes a slow take up of the self-collection service to the fact it has been heavily restricted to certain women, and said it would be important all women and people with a cervix are given the option of a traditional exam, or self-collection.

Part of that will mean getting GPs and nurses on board.

“Policy change is not enough,” Dr Whop said.

“We have to ensure that it’s embedded into usual practice, so that any time someone is due for their cervical screen that the option of self collection is offered.”

‘First time ever’ chance to eliminate a cancer

Immunologist and former Australian of the Year Professor Ian Frazer says we could eliminate cervical cancer within years (Four Corners)

Professor Ian Frazer was one of the architects of Gardasil, the first vaccine used to protect against strains of HPV.

“We’ve got a chance to get rid of a cancer completely; first time ever,” Professor Frazer said.

“And here we have a vaccine and a means of doing it. It’s really important that we do this.”

The government will also use the money to support Australia’s largest clinical trial, known as Compass, which examines the interactions between the HPV vaccine and HPV screening.

The trial has over 76,000 participants and information from the trial is used to improve the National Cervical Screening Program.

Stephanie Steer is now fine, but said early detection was key. (ABC News: Mary Lloyd)

For Stephanie Steer, life is back on track. But she said she thinks better education about sexual and women’s health would make a big difference. 

She also thinks steps need to be taken to reduce the financial burden on women who need to seek help.

 “When I went through what I went through, it ended up costing thousands of dollars,” she said.

“As a woman in her early 20s, this was a lot of a financial burden to bear. So, anything that the government can do to reduce this, I think, will be a huge help.”

This article is written by the Specialist Reporting Team’s Penny Timms and Mary Lloyd, ABC News, and originally posted on ABC’s website.

ACRF provided the seed-funding of $1M to the Diamantina Institute to fund the worlds first cervical cancer vaccine.

World-first lung cancer screening facility increases chance of cure

A semi-trailer will be converted into the world’s first mobile lung cancer screening facility to help boost early detection and increase survival rates in rural and remote Queensland where access to specialists is limited.

The truck will be fitted with the latest technology, integrating imaging, breath and blood biomarker screening, as part of a $2 million Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) grant.

University of Queensland researcher and Prince Charles Hospital thoracic physician, Professor Kwun Fong, said lung cancer had high potential for cure, at 67 per cent, if detected early.

“Unfortunately, two thirds of patients present with advanced disease, when five-year survival is less than four per cent,” Professor Fong said.

“Lung cancer also has a greater proportional impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people in regional and rural areas, and those in lower socioeconomic environments.”

The ACRF Lung Cancer Screening Centre of Excellence (LUSCE) mobile facility, as it’s known, will target Australians living in rural, remote and Indigenous communities with limited access to lung cancer screening facilities.

Professor Fong said the ACRF LUSCE mobile facility will help increase early lung cancer detection at a stage when a cure is possible.

“Early-stage lung cancer can normally be cured with surgery and radiation therapy, but most lung cancers are typically diagnosed late when curative treatments are not able to be offered.

“With lung cancer screening technology accessible to all, we can save lives,” Professor Fong said.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has funded innovative cancer research across Australia over the past 37 years.

ACRF Chief Executive Officer, Kerry Strydom, said this world-first mobile lung screening research program aimed to reduce disparity in lung cancer outcomes experienced by Australians living in remote and regional communities.

“We believe this is an important element of ACRF’s grant portfolio and we are proud to enable this pilot study to provide more equitable access to effective screening technology for all Australians,” Ms Strydom said.

“This may well form the basis of a national lung cancer screening program in due course.“

The ACRF LUSCE mobile facility is expected to begin its maiden journey across Queensland in mid-late 2022.

This story was originally published on thUniversity of Queensland website. ACRF has backed $3m of brilliant research at the University of Queensland Thoracic Research Centre.

Orchid extract holds hope for prostate cancer treatment

Research led by the Centenary Institute has found that a compound extracted from a commonly cultivated orchid could be a potential new treatment option for prostate cancer.

The second most common form of cancer, prostate cancer is also the sixth highest cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide.

In the study, the researchers examined erianin, a natural bibenzyl compound, present in Dendrobium chrysotoxum, an orchid species native to Southeast Asia.

Erianin was found to have anti-tumour effects on both androgen-dependent (early-stage) and castration-resistant (advanced-stage) prostate cancer cells.

“Early in their development, prostate cancers need androgens (male sex hormones), including testosterone, to grow,” explained Dr Yanfei (Jacob) Qi, Head of the Lipid Cell Biology Laboratory at the Centenary Institute and lead researcher on the study.

“Androgen deprivation therapy, also known as hormone therapy, aims to decrease androgen levels and can help slow or limit the cancer’s growth. When the prostate cancer stops responding to this treatment and continues to grow, the prostate cancer is at an advanced stage known as castration-resistant.”

Dr Qi said that the team’s research had shown that erianin elevated levels of a fatty acid called C16 ceramide inside the androgen-dependent prostate cancer cells. This caused the cells to die through a process called endoplasmic reticulum stress-associated cell death.

In contrast, erianin alone failed to elevate C16 ceramide levels in the castration-resistant prostate cancer cells. However, artificially increasing C16 ceramide in these cells, in conjunction with the use of erianin did result in successful cell death.

“Novel treatments for prostate cancer are urgently needed,” said Dr Qi.

“Up to twenty percent of patients receiving androgen deprivation therapy progress to advanced prostate cancer within five years.”

“We’ve shown that erianin could play an important role in the development of new medical drugs that are able to target both early and late-stage prostate cancers, potentially benefiting many patients and helping save lives.”

This story was originally published on the Centenary Institute website. ACRF has backed $7.5m of brilliant research at Centenary Institute.

A deep dive into Australia’s second most-diagnosed cancer – blood cancer

What is blood cancer?

The blood is made up of different 3 different types of blood cells, each with a different function:

  • White blood cells – fight off infection,
  • Red blood cells – carry oxygen,
  • Platelets – form blood clots.

Blood cancer starts when abnormal cells start growing out of control. These out-of-control cells affect the function of healthy blood cells that fight of infection and create new cells.

How prevalent is blood cancer in Australia?

Each year, 11,500 Australians are diagnosed with blood cancer.

These diseases, accounting for one in 10 cancers diagnosed nationally, claim 4000 lives every year.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) has funded $10.7 million to Medical Research Institutes to advance the understanding, testing, and treatment of blood cancer, so that Australians diagnosed with blood cancer can go onto live long and healthy lives.

How does blood cancer occur?

Blood cancer, or hematologic cancer, often starts in the bone marrow where blood is produced. There are four main types of blood cancer:

Leukaemia is caused by the accumulation of excess, abnormal white blood cells. Leukaemias are grouped according to the type of white blood cell that is affected – either lymphoid or myeloid cells. There are two main types of leukaemia – acute and chronic. The key difference between the two is that chronic leukaemia is slow-growing, whereas acute leukaemia is fast growing and progresses quickly without treatment.

Lymphoma is a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. The cells that make up the lymphatic system – lymphocytes – are a type of white blood cell that fight infection in the body. The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The key difference between the two is that in Hodgkin lymphoma, Reed-Stenberg cells – large abnormal lymphocytes that may contain one or more nucleus – are present.

Myeloma is a cancer that starts in the blood’s plasma cell, a kind of white blood cell that is created in the bone marrow. Because bone marrow is found throughout the body, Myeloma can affect multiple areas at once, this is why the cancer is often called Multiple Myeloma.

What are the symptoms of blood cancer?

The symptoms of blood cancer vary by type and progression. Common symptoms include:

  • Anaemia
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weight loss
  • Pain in the bones or joints
  • Swollen lymph glands

What blood cancer research is ACRF funding?

In 2016 the ACRF funded Alfred Health and Monash University to establish the ACRF Blood Cancer Therapeutics Centre.

The ACRF Blood Cancer Therapeutics Centre is home to the latest technology in blood cancer. The centre enables researchers to discover therapies, track patient responses and monitor patients 1000x more closely, with the overall goal being to improve treatment outcomes for patients.

By supporting ACRF, you will be backing the brilliant ideas needed to find better ways to prevent, detect and treat all types of cancer – including blood cancer. Donate today to help bring us closer to a world without cancer. 

ProCan at the five-year mark

On 13 October, CMRI held its annual ProCan® Collaborators’ Update with 125 attendees, including researchers, funders, and members of ProCan’s consumer advisory panel. Collaborating cancer researchers from across Australia as well as the USA, Canada, and Europe joined the videoconference hosted by co-founder Professor Phil Robinson for a presentation and discussion of ProCan’s research achievements in the five years since the facility’s launch in September 2016.

ProCan co-founder, Professor Roger Reddel outlined the ambitious aim of the program: “to develop proteomic technology that can be combined with other data to provide a report to cancer clinicians that will aid treatment decisions within 48 hours of receiving a cancer tissue sample.”

An essential step toward this goal has been the establishment of a high-performing multidisciplinary team of more than 30 staff in the diverse fields of oncology, histopathology, proteomics, software engineering, data science, ethics, contract management, and project management.

A key change over the past year has been the strengthening of project management capability to streamline the large number of projects that are being undertaken simultaneously with leading cancer researchers in Australia and other countries. In addition, the team now has four medical oncologists who work with collaborating scientists to define research questions that are of high clinical value and assemble cohorts of cancer samples that are suitable for addressing those questions using proteomics.

A major focus of the program to date has been the development of efficient and reliable sample processing, and operationalisation of a suite of high-tech equipment and – recently – a new software pipeline to handle the vast amounts of cancer molecular data.

For the past three years, ProCan has been achieving its target of 20,000 mass spectrometry runs per year, with six instruments operating around the clock, and a total of 75,500 runs completed over five years – producing the largest known cancer dataset of this kind.

“We have developed a robust Quality Control Pipeline that is suitable for high-throughput clinical application – producing consistent data across multiple instruments over five years of continuous operation,” said proteomicist, Natasha Lucas.

“The team has developed a proteomic workflow that is clinically relevant,” said Professor Reddel. “We can generate reliable data from amounts of cancer material that are equivalent in size to small biopsy samples, and have the ability to generate proteomic data from a routinely processed cancer tissue sample in under 9 hours – in a process that is scalable and suitable for automation.”

“Having developed suitable technology, we are now well underway in building the first-ever large pan-cancer database of proteomic and clinical outcome data using a single proteomic platform,” said Professor Reddel.

Medical oncologist, Dr Jenny (Jia) Liu, described results from one type of cancer obtained in a collaboration with cancer researchers in Brisbane. “We examined cancer samples from 124 patients with HPV-positive head and neck cancer and tested whether proteomics could be used to distinguish cancers that would relapse from those that wouldn’t.

“ProCan has identified a set of proteins as ‘biomarkers’ that classify these cancers into three categories: high, medium and low risk of relapse. While the data need to be validated in a different cohort of patients, it could mean in future that patients with cancers diagnosed as low-risk could be spared aggressive treatment while a more tailored treatment plan could be used from the start for those in the medium- and high-risk categories.”

Similarly, ProCan is studying a range of cancers including lung cancer, breast cancer, bone cancers and other sarcomas, bowel cancer, cancer of the skin (including melanoma), brain cancer, liver cancer, ovarian cancer, kidney cancer, endometrial cancer, and many types of childhood cancer. With dozens of cancer projects already in the pipeline, the ProCan team is looking to collaborate with many dozens of additional cancer research groups over the next few years.

ProCan was seed-funded by the inaugural $10 million grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and is also generously supported by the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, NSW Ministry of Health, Cancer Institute NSW, Cancer Council NSW, National Health and Medical Research Council, University of Sydney, National Breast Cancer Foundation, and others.

This article originally appeared on the Children’s Medical Research Institute website. ACRF has backed $12m of brilliant research at the Children’s Medical Research Institute.

Understanding and targeting prostate cancer metabolism

South Australian medical researchers have identified a new way in which prostate cancer cells use glucose to grow and survive, which in turn could be the secret to destroying them.

In a new study published in the international journal eLife, researchers from SAHMRI, Flinders University and the University of Adelaide used cutting-edge technologies to analyse this metabolic pathway in prostate cancer cells, demonstrating that it represents a weakness in prostate tumours that could be exploited to develop new therapies.

Associate Professor Luke Selth from the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute (FHMRI) and Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing (FCMHW) at Flinders University says the study provides important insights into how prostate tumours change their metabolism to enable rapid growth and resistance to therapies.

“Prostate cancer cells are very different to normal prostate cells in many ways but one of the most striking differences is how tumours use sugars and fats for energy production and to rapidly grow. In this study, we found that a protein called 6PGD can support the survival of prostate cancer cells when they are being challenged with a hormonal therapy that is currently used in the clinic”.

The study found that switching on 6PGD enables the cancer cells to use glucose for the generation of antioxidants and to make the building blocks for growth.

“We think this is a significant finding because it potentially represents a new mechanism by which prostate cancer cells can become resistant to hormonal therapies, which are the standard-of-care treatment for men with advanced and metastatic disease”, says Selth.

Co-lead author Professor Lisa Butler, from SAHMRI and the University of Adelaide, says the results are a step forward in understanding the unique metabolism of prostate tumours.

“Using the latest technologies, we generated an incredibly detailed view of how 6PGD influences prostate cancer metabolism. Importantly, our work has pinpointed some clinical agents that may be able to shut down this pathway, so it is possible that our findings could eventually be used to develop a new targeted therapy for this common disease”, says Butler.

The study showed that 6PGD inhibitors could kill cancer cells grown in lab dishes and even in real tumours taken directly from Adelaide cancer patients, and these inhibitors were more effective when combined with a hormonal therapy.

This story was originally published on the SAHMRI website. ACRF has backed $4.3 million of brilliant research at SAHMRI.

Industry support to probe fundamental questions in cancer

A new “tumour barcoding” technique known as SPLINTR, developed at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, will be applied to common variants of non-small cell lung cancer.

SPLINTR can identify and track over time patterns of gene expression that give certain tumour cells an advantage, helping them to become dominant within a cancer.

Tumour samples of specific lung cancers will be analysed this way, both before and after patients are treated with targeted drugs.

Professor Mark Dawson, whose lab led the development of SPLINTR, said the research could open a new window on the gene expression underpinning this cancer, and drivers of treatment resistance.

“We are excited to collaborate with Pfizer in this early-stage research which may point to new ways to extend treatment responses, and improve outcomes, for lung cancer patients,” Professor Dawson said.

This project will also involve significant contributions from Peter Mac’s Professor Ben Solomon, Associate Professor Jayesh Desai and Professor Sarah-Jane Dawson.

Professor Ricky Johnstone, Executive Director Cancer Research at Peter Mac, said it was fantastic to see industry providing direct support for early-stage research.

“We are delighted that Pfizer – through its Emerging Science Fund – is helping to address really important and fundamental questions in cancer as this is how we drive the development of new diagnostic and treatment options for our patients,” he said.

“Pfizer’s Emerging Science Fund is an important resource for fulfilling our purpose to work across the healthcare ecosystem to translate science and technologies into medicines and vaccines that improve patients’ lives,” said Barbara Sosnowski, Vice President and Global Head Emerging Science & Innovation Leads at Pfizer.

“As a company with a long history of dedication to lung cancer patients, we are pleased to support the team at Peter Mac in this early-stage program.”

This story was originally published on the Peter Mac website. ACRF has backed $9 million of brilliant research at Peter Mac.

New DNA-based test on the horizon for children with solid tumours

When an Australian child is diagnosed with the blood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the treating clinician is almost certain to make use of an important DNA-based technique called ‘minimal residual disease testing’ to help guide treatment decisions. But for children diagnosed with solid tumours, no such test is available.

New Australian research, led by scientists at Children’s Cancer Institute published this month in the British Journal of Cancer, brings us one step closer to having such a tool.

The research shows that the new technology of whole genome sequencing (WGS) can be used to identify tumour-specific ‘markers’ − gene alterations unique to an individual patient – which can, in turn, be used to measure cancer levels in that patient’s body at different points in time. Specifically, the markers allow the detection of ‘minimal residual disease’ (MRD): cancer cells that have survived treatment and will lead to relapse, if allowed to do so.

MRD testing has proven to be a game-changer for children with ALL, helping clinicians monitor disease progression and treatment response, and enabling the early detection of relapse. Now, it is hoped that the same can be done for children with solid tumours.

To investigate the feasibility of using WGS technology as the basis of MRD testing for solid tumours, the researchers used data from the Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO), Australia’s first personalised medicine program for children with cancer, which involves extensive molecular testing and analysis of children’s tumours, including WGS. Since the program began in 2015, it has generated unprecedented data about cancer in children, including previously unavailable genomic data.

According to lead researcher, Dr Toby Trahair, Clinical Research Fellow at Children’s Cancer Institute, and paediatric oncologist at the Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital, it is the availability of this data that has opened the door to developing an MRD test for children with solid tumours.

“Progress in developing this kind of test has been hampered by a lack of necessary data,” he explains. “Because of the whole gene sequencing done through ZERO, we now have access to information we simply didn’t have before. What we’ve done for this study is investigate whether we can use that data for the purpose of MRD testing in children with solid tumours.”

Specifically, the study asked whether identifying tumour-specific gene sequences using WGS can lead to an accurate and reliable way of detecting and measuring MRD in a patient’s bone marrow and peripheral blood. According to its findings, the answer to that question is Yes. And while their research focused on high-risk neuroblastoma and Ewing sarcoma, the authors believe the findings are likely to be applicable to multiple types of cancer.

The clinical implications of the findings will need to be explored in prospective clinical trials. However, Dr Trahair is optimistic. “In the ZERO national clinical trial [2017-2020], the average time it took to generate detailed genomic data for a patient was just over 7 weeks. A validated MRD assay can be developed and applied within 6 weeks of receiving genomic data. This means it would be feasible to provide real-time MRD results for a child with high-risk neuroblastoma or Ewing sarcoma from mid-induction therapy onwards. That’s very exciting, because it means those MRD results have the potential to change the outcome for that child.”

This work was made possible by funding from Children’s Cancer Foundation, Australia and the funding partners of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program.

This story was originally published on the Children’s Cancer Institute website. ACRF has backed $9.6 million of brilliant research at Children’s Cancer Institute.

New slide technology lights up early-stage breast cancer

An innovative microscope slide – NanoMslide – is promising to revolutionise medical imaging after researchers demonstrated that it could be used to detect breast cancer cells in patients.

The technology was developed at La Trobe University by Professor Brian Abbey and co-inventor Dr Eugeniu Balaur, who then teamed up with Associate Professor Belinda Parker’s group at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to trial it as an aid to diagnosing very early-stage breast cancer.

In their study published today in Nature, they demonstrate that by modifying the surface of conventional microscope slides at the nanoscale, biological structures and cells take on a striking colour contrast which can be used to instantly detect disease.

“Current approaches to tissue imaging often rely on staining or labelling cells in order to render them visible under the microscope,” Professor Abbey said.

“Even with staining or labelling, it can be challenging for pathologists to detect cancer cells, with the risk that some samples are misdiagnosed, particularly during the very early stages of disease.

“Recent breakthroughs in nanotechnology have allowed us to manipulate the interaction of light with biological tissue so that abnormal cells appear to have a different colour to healthy ones. Comparing images from our slides to conventional staining is like watching colour television when all you’ve seen before is black and white.”

Associate Professor Parker said current techniques can mean it is difficult to distinguish early forms of breast cancer from benign lesions, particularly when there are not many abnormally-shaped cells in a complex tissue.

The NanoMslide makes such a diagnosis much easier.

“When I first looked at a tissue under the microscope on the NanoMslide, I was incredibly excited,” said Associate Professor Parker, who is also an adjunct associate professor at La Trobe.

“For the first time I saw cancer cells just popping up at me. They were a different colour from the surrounding tissue, and it was very easy to distinguish them from surrounding cells.”

Associate Professor Parker believes the NanoMslide will complement existing stains currently in use, to allow for more consistent cancer diagnoses.

“Based on our preliminary findings with the NanoMslide, we think this platform could be really useful in early breast cancer diagnosis, but also in other cancers where we’re really just trying to pick up a few cancer cells in a complex tissue or a blood sample.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with Professor Sandra O’Toole from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research who was the lead pathologist, and clinical and research partners at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Olivia Newton‐John Cancer Research Institute, The University of Melbourne and the Australian National University.

Professor Abbey’s group were able to develop their slide technology by harnessing open access equipment and expertise made available by the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, the flagship facility of the Victorian node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF-VIC).

This story was originally published on the Peter Mac website. ACRF has backed $9 million of brilliant research at Peter Mac.

World-first 3D imaging for melanoma detection

Queenslanders could have skin cancer diagnosed earlier using world-first 3D scanning technology with the launch of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis.

University of Queensland Dermatologist Professor H. Peter Soyer said the technology enabled researchers to track moles and skin spots over time using full body mapping, making it a game-changer for melanoma detection.

“This technology is revolutionising early melanoma detection using 3D state-of-the-art body imaging systems that take an image in milliseconds,” Professor Soyer said.

“The telemedicine network allows dermatologists and medical professionals to detect skin cancers remotely, even from the other side of the country.

“For the first time, medical researchers can access a national database of up to 100,000 patient images taken by 3D full body imaging systems located in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, as part of the world’s largest melanoma imaging trial, which aims to develop more efficient and effective screening for the early detection of skin cancer.   

“Using algorithms created by artificial intelligence, the 3D imaging systems are able to analyse the images and produce a full body skin spot map, which transforms the way we will monitor patients in the future.”

Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world with an average 28,000 Australians diagnosed with the disease every year.

ACRF chief executive officer Kerry Strydom said the Australian Cancer Research Foundation backed the best in research and cutting-edge technology to drive innovation and help create the new Centre.

“Melanoma is a deadly problem that needs disruptive solutions, and ACRF is proud to be to be involved in delivering revolutionary research through this pioneering program,” Mr Strydom said.

The project brings together three leading Australian universities in skin research, UQ, The University of Sydney and Melbourne’s Monash University, to form the interconnected Centre of Excellence in Diagnostic Imaging of Early Melanoma.

Queenslanders can sign up here to be part of the world’s largest melanoma imaging trial using the 3D full body imaging system located at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.

This blogpost originally appeared on The University of Queensland (UQ) Website. ACRF has backed $16.4 million of brilliant research at UQ.