One recent breakthrough in cancer research is in precision medicine. Most cancer treatments such as chemotherapy are very general and can harm healthy cells as well as cancerous ones.
Precision medicine is a new form of treatment that matches the most effective treatment to the patient’s cancer profile rather than this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Precision medicine can also help predict and avoid adverse reactions to certain medications, especially for those who suffer from Cancer.
In 2022 ACRF awarded a grant of $2.1 million to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute to establish the ACRF Centre for Precision Medicine. This will propel recent research, exploiting new technology for tumour diagnosis and treatment. The lab will focus on a form of precision medicine called “Theranostics” which uses a radioisotope to both diagnose and treat a tumour.
Breast cancer breakthroughs
In 2021 researchers at the University of Adelaide and the Garvan Institute found evidence for the role of androgens (male sex hormones, but also found in low levels in women) as a potential treatment for the oestrogen (female hormone) receptor positive breast cancer.
During female puberty, the growth of breasts is stimulated by oestrogen and inhibited by androgens. Abnormal oestrogen activity can be responsible for several breast cancers. This study showed experimental evidence that drugs that stimulate these androgen receptors could provide more effective treatment of some breast cancers.
The mammogram has revolutionised breast cancer diagnosis in Australia and globally- a mammogram is a breast cancer screening that can pick up abnormalities in the breast that cannot otherwise be seen or felt. It is recommended that women aged 50-74 attend a mammogram every two years. 3D mammography is a recent advancement in breast cancer diagnosis. This creates a 3D image of the breast and has the potential to reduce false positive scans, but is not yet being used nationwide.
What are the most recent discoveries in terms of cancer treatment?
One of the most recent breakthroughs in regards to immunotherapy treatment is CAR-T-cell therapy. CAT-T-cell therapy is a type of immunotherapy (it uses the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells) involving removing T-cells (immune cells) from the body and modifying them to produce chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to kill cancer cells. When these cells are implanted into the body they remain there and only require one round of treatment, unlike existing therapies such as chemotherapy.
The approval of this treatment for patients up to 25 years old with relapsed B-cell precursor ALL has the potential to revolutionize cancer therapy by reducing relapse rates and minimizing damage to healthy tissues. The remarkable outcomes reported in a study by Lyons et al. (2017) demonstrate its potential for treating other types of cancer as well.
ACRF awarded a grant of $3 million to the Garvan Institute in 2020 to establish the ACRF Centre for Intravital Imaging of Niches for Cancer Immune Therapy. This will house a world-first Australian-designed custom intravital microscope to view the interactions between the immune system and cancer. This new advancement in cancer technology will further our knowledge of immunotherapy to treat cancer as well as develop new therapeutic approaches for eradicating cancer cells in all cancers.
Advancements made in cancer research:
Tumour biopsy in children is a painful and invasive procedure but is needed to obtain a sample of the cancer. However, currently this method provides limited information about the types of cancer cells in the tumour, and since it is so invasive cannot be done regularly to monitor changes in the cancer. In 2019 ACRF awarded a grant of $3.5 million to Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia. This was used to establish the ACRF Child Cancer Liquid Biopsy Program. Each year in Australia over 950 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer. The ACRF liquid biopsy program will revolutionise tumour sampling, providing a much less invasive technique obtaining cells from a child’s blood or lymph nodes, allowing tumour to be monitored better as well as diagnosed earlier.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is currently being used to bring new insights to cancer research and will continue to do so over the coming years. Artificial Intelligence involves computers mimicking human intelligence. Machine Learning is a subcategory of this and uses statistical approaches to improve computer performance with experience. This can be applied to several areas of cancer research including image analysis, analysing cancer genomics and precision medicine.