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

Gardasil vaccine

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

 

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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Breast cancer linked to chronic disease later in life

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

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.

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

Cancer research Australia

Peter Gibbs, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

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,

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

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

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.

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

Australian cancer research

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

$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.

 

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

Image X
Image courtesy of ACRF Image X Institute, University of Sydney

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.

 

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

breast cancer research Australia

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.