Sneak preview of new research centre

ACRF staff visit amazing new Lowy Cancer Research Centre

Excited ACRF staff, accompanied by CEO David Brettell, were given a sneak preview of the new state-of-the-art children’s cancer research facility set to open soon at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at the UNSW.

The new facility, opening on the 19th August 2010, is the first centre in Australia to bring together childhood and adult cancer research at the one site and was built with the help of a $3.1 million grant from the ACRF.

Shown the new complex by Dr Moira Clay, from Children’s Cancer Institute Australia, ACRF staff toured three floors of the $100 million-plus facility which will house up to 400 researchers from UNSW and which is set to be one of the largest dedicated cancer research centres in the Southern Hemisphere.

The first impression was that the innovative designers of the building had been more successful in creating “a very green building”.

Designed by Lahz Nimmo Architects in association with Wilson Architects, the building boasts lime green-cladding, precast concrete panels and a five-star environmental rating in accordance with the new Green Building Council of Australia method of evaluation.

Dr Clay was most welcoming of ACRF staff and full of praise for the Foundation.

“The ACRF does very important work and we are pleased to sing your praises and promote the work that you do,” she said.

“It is well known through the Australian medical and cancer research community that the ACRF fills an invaluable role.”

The ACRF visit included a tour of the atrium, which towers over six of the building’s eight floors flanked on two sides by gleaming laboratories displaying state of the art equipment.

The Centre is named after prominent businessman and philanthropist Frank Lowy, whose family donated $10 million towards the building of the new facility.

In addition to the ACRF grant, the Lowy family gift and University resources, significant funding was also contributed to the facility by the NSW and Federal governments.

“It is a first class facility, which will enable us to attract more of the brightest people from Australia and overseas,“ said Dr Clay.

One of the most impressive aspects of the new complex were the advanced robots on display.

ACRF staff viewed these after changing into medical gowns and gloves to ensure the sensitive research work was protected.

Dr Greg Arndt, Manager of the ACRF Drug Discovery Centre, said the new facility included state-of-the-art equipment for finding and confirming new cancer targets and pathways, developing key diagnostic tests and discovering novel small molecule drugs to treat cancer.

“Helping to identify new anti-cancer small molecule drugs, and with the support of ACRF-DDC, we have invested in the acquisition of two automated robotic systems which we have named “Ham” and ”Milton”.

“The first robot is the Hamilton STAR liquid handler integrated with a cell incubator, assay readout detector and cell washer,” he said.

“The second system is a stand-alone automated liquid handler (Hamilton Nimbus) based in a biological safety hood to allow for smaller-scale screening of small molecule drugs against different cancer cell models”.

“Both of these advanced automation systems will increase the number of small molecules that can be surveyed and reduce the time and cost associated with identifying the successfulness anti-cancer drugs”.

Dr Arndt amazed ACRF staff by revealing that previous work where the CCIA screened 30,000 small molecules manually required 12 weeks to complete.

“With the new automated robots this time can be reduced to less than one week,” he said.

“Furthermore, by using automation it is possible to increase the total number of small molecules screened to greater than 100,000. This level of throughput is essential to finding the rare small molecule showing the desired effect on cancer cells.”

Dr Arndt said it took him about a year to learn how to properly use the robots.

The ACRF-DDC has also identified and purchased 160,000 small molecules for use in the screening assays on the automated robotic systems.

These are jointly owned with the Walter & Eliza Hall Medical Research Institute and stored in the cutting edge facilities based at the Queensland Compound Library.

Using this combination of automated robotics, complex small molecule libraries and advanced data management tools, the ACRF-DDC hopes to identify the key targets in different cancers, develop effective diagnostic tests for those targets, and find novel small molecule drugs capable of blocking the action of these key targets and providing new anti-tumour drugs.

Dr Moira Clay said the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) is the only independent medical research institute in Australia dedicated to research into the causes, prevention, better treatments and ultimately a cure for childhood cancer.

“Our vision is to save the lives of all children with cancer and eliminate their suffering. Its mission is to be a leader in preventing cancer and finding ways of curing cancer in children through world-class research,” she said.

“We want to ensure the best possible quality of life for these children and their families and share our vision with others to increase awareness, participation and funding.”

The CCIA facility hopes to bring closer its vision to save the lives of all children with cancer and eliminate their suffering.

The Lowy Cancer Research Centre, located at University of New South Wales (Kensington campus), will be one of the leading cancer research centres in the world integrating childhood and adult cancer research and taking a holistic approach to cancer across the life spectrum.

Read more about ACRF’s $3.1million grant and earlier $500,000 grant to CCIA.

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