World-first Australian designed microscopes a game-changer for cancer treatment

Giving researchers a comprehensive view for the first time, of how the immune system can work to target cancer.

The ACRF Centre for Intravital Imaging of Niches for Cancer Immune Therapy (INCITe) has officially opened at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research today. The ACRF INCITe Centre, features two world-first, Australian designed microscopes which overcome the limitations of conventional microscopes in viewing the interactions between the immune system and cancer, giving researchers, for the first time, a comprehensive view below the surface of tumours and deep inside tissues.

The ACRF INCITe Centre will also address a major challenge in the treatment of cancer, seeking to understand and address why some patients and only some cancer types respond to immunotherapies, while others do not – potentially revolutionising immunotherapy treatment options and saving lives of cancer patients.

Discoveries using the ACRF  INCITe Centre’s two NICHEscopes will also provide greater insight into the presence of drug-resistant, dormant cancer cells and how they interact within the immune system.

The establishment of the ACRF  INCITe Centre, has been made possible due to a $3 million grant awarded by Australian Cancer Research Foundation to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Each microscope features distinct technological capabilities and is equipped with revolutionary raster adaptive optics modules that allow for imaging at greater volumes and at faster speed, resolution and depth.

The first of the two microscopes, the EndoNICHEscope, enables minimally invasive access to tissues previously inaccessible. The device allows investigators to image cellular interactions in tumours deep inside tissues, including bone, at unprecedented levels of resolution.

The second microscope, the Molecular NICHEscope, enables molecular imaging of cell signalling in vivo in real time. This multimodal imaging allows investigators to integrate cell migration and signalling events to the outcomes of cellular interactions. The device also enables intravital imaging of drug bioavailability and action as well as the imaging of tumours in organs and tissues while moving, such as the lung of a breathing animal.

Co-Director of the  ACRF INCITe Centre, Professor Tri Phan said, the Centre is a complete reinvention of how we look at cancers. At the moment conventional microscopes only give us a snapshot in time, but these new microscopes overcome the technical challenges of imaging the molecular details of how the immune system interacts with cancer in real time.

“By looking in the ‘dark spaces’ deep inside tumours, we hope to finally answer clinically important questions that we have not been able to answer before. We aim to reveal crucial insights that will allow us to develop new therapeutic approaches for eradicating cancer cells in all patients,” said Prof Tri Phan.

The ACRF INCITe Centre will be available for medical researchers around Australia and the world to access the technology via a virtual lab and receive assistance onsite by locally based scientists.

Working deep within tumours for the first time, Co-Director of the ACRF INCITe Centre Professor Paul Timpson said “we’ve taken the guess work out of cancer research in live tissue”.

“With the support of ACRF we’ve taken what was just a vision and idea of Professor Tri Phan and myself and made it a reality. This investment doesn’t just assist researchers here in Australia, but internationally, it’s a game-changer for cancer research,” said Prof Paul Timpson.

ACRF’s CEO, Kerry Strydom said we know the ACRF INCITe Centre will help save lives and shape the future of cancer treatment.

“It’s cutting-edge technology like this that drives innovation and save lives. The ACRF INCITe Centre gives Australian researchers and those interstate and even overseas the opportunity to study cancer and the immune system in real time. With this knowledge they have the power to revolutionise immunotherapy treatments and improve the lives and outcomes of cancer patients. We’re excited to see what the future holds for this world-first program.” said Kerry.