Tour of Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Researchers and clinicians will soon be able to fast-track efforts to tailor cancer treatments for patients through personalised medicine with the imminent construction of a new $100million cancer centre in Sydney, also leading the way for world-class translational research in Australia.

A joint venture of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the St Vincent’s & Mater Health Sydney, the new cancer centre – due for completion in 2012 – is partially funded with a $2.5 million grant awarded in 2006 by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

Recently visiting the building site, ACRF staff also met with Garvan scientists to explore the Institute’s existing laboratories, as well as discussing the importance of ongoing funding to support cancer research.


Garvan Institute: Five research areas, unlimited possibilities


Touring the building with Garvan Research Foundation’s Chief Executive, Carole Renouf, the ACRF team was led across the foyer of the Garvan Institute to reveal a multilevel research complex leading to the laboratories of tenacious researchers fighting against cancer and other diseases.

Housed in these laboratories are world-class medical instruments, which researchers use to investigate five key research areas at the Institute, including immunology, cancer, diabetes & obesity, neuroscience and bone.

“This multidisciplinary approach is one of the great things about the Institute, allowing for greater breakthroughs as each research area feeds off one another”, says Carole.

“At the Institute we have a strong pancreatic cancer group and a strong diabetes group – this is an obvious research complement” she added.

Peering down from the Institute’s “double helix” staircase, the ACRF team also caught a glimpse of the Curran Foundation Library – a symbolic library, almost obsolete since the advent of online publishing – reminding the scientific community that research papers are the key output and performance indicator of the Institute.


Targeting breast cancer genes


During the tour, Cancer Research Officer Dr Liz Caldon told ACRF staff of the ongoing experiments in breast cancer at the Institute, including studies into the effectiveness of tamoxifen in breast cancer patients.

“30% of women don’t respond to tamoxifen, and the 70% who do respond, 5-10% go on to have recurrent and aggressive disease that then don’t respond to tamoxifen” Liz said.

Visiting the laboratories and tissue culture room at the Institute, the ACRF team was also given a microscopic view of the T47D breast cancer cell and a look at some of the methods for examining the levels of proteins in cells, such as western blotting.

Despite great developments in breast cancer research over the past 5-10years, Liz says further studies are still needed – in particular, to further tailor or personalise drugs for a specific subset of women by targeting a specific gene in breast cancer patients.


From pipette tips to massarrays – the ongoing costs


The Garvan Institute’s ACRF Unit for the Molecular Genetics of Cancer houses some of the most costly scientific equipment in the Garvan, including a series of DNA massarrays for analysing genetic material involved in the development of cancer.

This laboratory, established in 2004 following a $1.1 million ACRF grant, is a one-stop shop for researchers across New South Wales for sequencing, SNP genotyping, gene expression analysis, and methylation quantification.

Facility Manager of the ACRF Unit, Dr Pavel Bitter, says the machines are of world-class and were purchased with throughput, cost and accuracy in mind to facilitate research into cancer susceptibility genes.

Dr Bitter and his research team have now outgrown their existing workspace, but will be moving to the adjacent cancer centre upon it’s completion in 2012; and Dr Bitter admits by that time newer technologies will be available and more funding will need to be sourced to ensure the highest level of cancer research.

The humble pipette is also an essential scientific device in the research of cancer cells, and contributes to the ongoing costs at the Institute.

The Gilson pipette ranging from $300 to $500 is used in laboratories to transport precise amounts of liquid, and features a replaceable plastic tip that researchers use in the thousands on a daily basis.

Other essential costs at the laboratory include the bench top centrifuge, which spins and separates matter and liquids, and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines – simply put, a “genetic photocopier” that generates DNA for testing.

Check out the video of the tour:

For More Information about the new cancer centre, or the Garvan Institute:

Visit the Garvan Website

Read about the 2008 ACRF Grant to the Garvan Institute

Read about the 2004 ACRF Grant to the Garvan Institute

Read the Kinghorn Cancer Centre Media Release

Photos courtesy of the Garvan Institute