Cancer Council NSW awards millions in new research funding

18 February 2016 | Adjunct Professor Karen Canfell
Cancer-cells-dividing, cancer research

Cancer Council NSW is excited to announce that around $3.6 million in new funding has been awarded to some of Australia’s most outstanding researchers, who are setting out to reduce the impact of cancer and explore new treatment approaches.

Who are the cancer researchers?

A total of 10 visionary researchers and their teams were successful in securing a research project grant. Over the next 3 years, these teams will conduct world-class studies focusing on different facets of the cancer journey, from prevention, diagnosis and detection, and treatment.

Some of these researchers have received our funding in the past and are now building on their amazing discoveries. Other researchers are receiving a Cancer Council NSW project grant for the first time, marking the start of new research partnerships with big potential.

What are the cancer research projects?

Professor Stuart Tangye – Garvan Institute of Medical Research
The Susan and John Freeman Cancer Research Grant
This project will study patients with immune deficiencies to understand how errors in specific genes cripple the ability of their immune system to control viral infection and the development of lymphoma. These results will lead to strategies that enhance anti-viral and anti-cancer immunity, and also help develop effective vaccines.

Professor Peter Croucher – Garvan Institute of Medical Research
The Kay Stubbs Cancer Research Grant
Myeloma is a cancer that grows in the bone, forming painful bone lesions which fracture easily. Professor Croucher is exploring whether a drug used for osteoporosis can be used to keep myeloma cells in their “hibernating” phase. This would mean the myeloma cells could be kept asleep and not grow.

Professor Xu Dong Zhang – University of Newcastle
A key function of the immune system is to identify and destroy harmful cells. A new class of drugs, called MAPK inhibitors, are now being used to treat melanoma, but some patients who initially respond to the treatment will relapse. This is because the melanoma cells can send out a “don’t eat me” signal, allowing them to escape the detection of the immune system. Professor Zhang is exploring ways to help the immune system find and destroy these melanoma cells.

Associate Professor Hilda Pickett – Children’s Medical Research Institute
Telomeres are cap-like structures that protect the ends of chromosomes, but they gradually shorten over time and this eventually stops the cell from dividing.  Some cancers activate a pathway that allows them to bypass this shortening process, and divide indefinitely. This research project will develop drugs that block this function, thereby preventing the cancer cells from growing. Read more about A/Prof Pickett’s previous research in this area.

Professor Susan Clark – Garvan Institute of Medical Research
The Kay Stubbs Cancer Research Grant
Some patients with breast cancer will develop a resistance to endocrine therapy and relapse, which represents a major challenge to treatment. Professor Clark is testing the use of a new molecular target, which is able to predict whether a patient will respond to therapy. This target will also be exploited to develop strategies for managing patients with recurrent breast cancer.

Dr Phoebe Phillips – University of New South Wales
Despite the development of aggressive treatment regimens for pancreatic cancer, there has been little progress in improving patient survival over the last decade. Dr Phillips is exploring a new way to target pancreatic cancer – by reducing the scar tissue around the tumour. This would improve the delivery of drugs to the cancer and prevent further growth.

Professor David Gottlieb – University of Sydney
A bone marrow transplant can cure acute leukaemia, but it can also cause many side effects. New transplant techniques involve administering white blood cells that have been enhanced to fight infection and leukaemia. Professor Gottlieb is now determining the best combination of all these available transplant methods that can be used to improve patient outcomes.

Professor Philip Hansbro – University of Newcastle
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in Australia, but there is still a lack of effective tests for early detection. Professor Hansbro is identifying the genetic mutations linked to the development and progression of lung cancer. This will be then used to create tests for the early detection of lung cancer.

Professor Roger Reddel – Children’s Medical Research Institute
Professor Reddel has already discovered the cellular process that some cancers (like sarcomas and types of brain cancer) use to become immortal. Professor Reddel’s research team are now testing drugs that block the source of this immortality – stopping tumour growth and triggering cancer cell death.

Dr Mustafa Khasraw – University of Sydney
Glioblastoma is a particularly lethal form of brain cancer with poor survival rates. Traditional treatment includes surgery followed by courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. However, glioblastoma can sometimes protect itself from chemo-radiotherapy, making the therapy less effective. Dr Khasraw is now looking at whether adding a drug to this treatment regime can make the chemo-radiotherapy more effective.

For more information about Cancer Council NSW’s ongoing research funding, visit our research pages.

Over the next few weeks we will be featuring stories about some of these research projects.