Our crucial basic (or fundamental) research has delivered promising results and offers hope across the spectrum of cancers including:
- Breast cancer
- Leukaemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma (blood cancers)
- Liver cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Research affecting all cancer types
More than 12,000 Australian women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Survival rates have improved dramatically but with over 2,500 women dying from breast cancer every year we still have a long way to go.
A number of our labs are working on innovative projects to develop new ways to prevent or treat breast cancer. Recent examples include:
- New blood vessel inhibitor: Expanding on the discovery of an important blood vessel inhibitor to develop a new anti-cancer therapy for breast cancer and melanoma – Prof Jenny Gamble (Vascular Biology lab)
- New drug to starve tumours: Discovering a novel treatment that may starve breast cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma cells of amino acids – essential nutrients the tumours need to survive, grow and multiply – Dr Jeff Holst (Origins of Cancer lab)
- Diet and breast cancer: Examining the dietary affects that may be feeding cancer cell growth and reproduction – Dr Jeff Holst (Origins of Cancer lab)
- Anti-cancer target for key enzyme: research on cancer-causing enzyme (SphK1) and its role in breast cancer progression and drug-resistance – Dr Pu Xia (Signal Transduction lab)
- Marker for response or resistance: investigating how to use SphK1 as a marker to diagnose patients who will respond to or resist endocrine therapy – Dr Pu Xia (Signal Transduction lab)
- Understanding gene’s role in breast cancer: understanding the role of a particular gene (SENEX) in breast cancer progression – Prof Jenny Gamble with Dr Matthew Grimshaw (Vascular Biology lab)
More than 9,000 Australians are diagnosed with leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma every year. Sadly, it is estimated that every two hours, someone loses their life to leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma.
Our researchers are making discoveries to help improve treatments for people with blood cancers. Some recent examples:
- New way to grow stem cells: our recent discovery of a unique way to grow blood-forming stem cells could improve stem cell transplants. These transplants are used to treat blood cancers and repair damage caused by chemotherapy – Prof John Rasko (Gene and Stem Cell Therapy)
- Gene to repair DNA: discovery of a DNA repair gene that can significantly reduce damage in cells – a major cause of cancer. The team found this by looking at mutations in antibody B-cells, which is implicated in most adult B cell lymphomas and leukaemias – Dr Chris Jolly (DNA Repair).
Liver cancer is one of the fastest growing diseases in our community. The rate of liver cancer in Australia has increased four-fold in the past 20 years. Sadly this trend is expected to continue.
An increased understanding of the liver diseases that lead to cancer and chronic liver failure is essential in bringing forth new treatments. Our recent work includes:
- From damage to new drugs: investigating how liver damage leads to liver cancer in the hope that we can develop new treatment targets and prevent these diseases from worsening over time – Prof Geoff McCaughan (Liver Injury & Cancer)
- Investigating a suspect family of enzymes: exploring the structure and function of the DPPIV family of enzymes that we hold the worldwide patents for. We believe these enzymes have a unique role in causing liver injury and liver cancer – Dr Mark Gorrell (Molecular Hepatology)
- Inflammation and liver cancer: chronic inflammation is associated with many types of cancer, especially liver cancer. Three of our labs are working together to examine how SphK mediates inflammation and how it links to cancer. This study could develop new strategies and treatments for liver cancer – Dr Pu Xia (Signal Transduction lab), Prof Geoff McCaughan (Liver Immunobiology lab) and Prof Jenny Gamble (Vascular Biology lab)
Melanoma is the third most common form of cancer in Australian men and women, comprising 10% of all cancers. Furthermore, Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world and is the most common cancer in young Australians aged 15--39 years old. It is also one of the most deadly cancers; although melanoma makes up less than 3% of all skin cancers, it is responsible for 75% of skin cancer deaths.
Unlike other cancers, melanoma is hard to model using animal models. Thus, researchers must use cancer cells obtained from patients. However, when these cells are grown in a dish they cells often do not behave the same way as they do in the patient. This is because, in the dish, they grow in a two-dimensional sheet, while in the patient, they grow in three dimensions. Scientists at the Centenary Institute have developed a novel 3D melanoma model, which accurately mimics the growth and movement of melanoma cells in the human body. This enables them to develop a clearer idea of hour melanoma cells actually behave, and allows the testing of anti-melanoma therapies with a higher predictive rate of success.
Our researchers are dedicated to improve our understanding of melanoma cells and discover new therapies to treat melanoma.
- New drugs for advanced melanoma: our researchers have worked with international partners to help develop an exciting next-generation therapy known as BRAF-inhibitor PLX4032. This new drug is showing promising results in clinical trials. Our researchers are also looking at other new therapies that show potential in treating advanced melanoma – Dr Nikolas Haass (Experimental Melanoma Therapies)
- Melanoma under the microscope: using highly advanced technology, our researchers are conducting real-time imaging of melanoma cells. This means they can accurately track cell behaviour, observe cell interactions, analyse the environment surrounding the melanoma cells and how different melanoma cells respond to treatments – Dr Nikolas Haass (Experimental Melanoma Therapies).
- New drug to starve melanoma cells: we are developing a new treatment to starve melanoma, prostate and breast cancer cells of amino acids – essential nutrients the tumours need to survive, grow and multiply. This new treatment would be known as a nutrient uptake inhibitor – Dr Jeff Holst (Origins of Cancer)
- New blood vessel inhibitor: expanding on the discovery of an important blood vessel inhibitor, our researchers are developing a new anti-cancer therapy for melanoma and breast cancer – Prof Jenny Gamble (Vascular Biology)
When we think of cancer, we traditionally think of conventional therapeutics, such as chemotherapy and radiation. In contrast, relatively little attention has been given to the role of the host immune system - a complex system of specialised cells that coordinate anti-pathogenic defence. This has changed in recent years, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that high numbers of a specific immune cell population, called cytotoxic T cells, within tumours is a favourable prognostic indicator. Cytotoxic T cells are important during viral infections, but can also kill cancer cells. To achieve this, T cells must migrate through the tumour to find its target. This migratory ability is part-and-parcel to T cell function, and disruptions to this capacity result in susceptibility to infection and cancer. For this reason, researchers within the Centenary Institute are interested in understanding how T cells migrate, particularly within places where they are needed most, such as tumours. (T Cell Biology)
More than 1200 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Australia each year. And, in most cases, the cancer will be at an advanced stage where it is very difficult to treat.
That’s why our researchers are finding new ways to overcome drug resistance in ovarian cancer. We have had a major win in the past year:
- Drug to kill ovarian cancer cells in a new, irreversible way: our researchers have uncovered a drug (FTY720) that kills ovarian cancer cells in a unique, irreversible process to overcome drug resistance. This drug had a potent, lasting effect even in human ovarian cancer cells resistant to cisplatin – the most commonly used chemotherapeutic drug used to treat ovarian cancer – Dr Pu Xia (Signal Transduction)
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men. It is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men with close to 3,300 Australian dying from prostate cancer each year.
Cancer cells need a constant supply of nutrients to grow and multiply. Our researchers are committed to understanding the metabolic requirements of tumours to discover new approaches to prevent and treat prostate cancer.
- Testosterone, transporters and prostate cancer: our researchers have discovered a critical link between testosterone signals and an amino acid transporter. This finding explains why this transporter is increased in prostate cancer and could lead to better treatments – Dr Jeff Holst (Origins of Cancer)
- New treatment for prostate cancer: building on our extensive research into the role of amino acids in the uncontrolled growth of prostate cancer, we are working on creating a new type of cancer therapy known as nutrient uptake inhibitors to starve tumours – Dr Jeff Holst (Origins of Cancer).
- Profiling the enemy: through a highly complex process we are creating the structure of these amino acid ‘transporters’. This will help us develop highly tailored drugs to fit the right target so that it will be more effective against the cancer cells and cause fewer side effects – Dr Mika Jormakka (Structural Biology)
- Diet and prostate cancer: gaining insight about the effect of diet (particularly red meats and dairy) on the development and progression of cancer – Dr Jeff Holst (Origins of Cancer)
We all produce cancer cells in our body but a healthy immune system can regulate cancer cells and keep them in check. If we focus on strengthening our immune system, it will be able to fight off intruders like cancer cells.
Our researchers are interested in how the immune system can prevent or slow down cancer. Recent findings and current projects include:
- Using B-cells to fix damaged genes: discovering when and how B-cells in the immune system repair damaged genes to protect us against cancer – Dr Chris Jolly (DNA Repair)
- New cells to improve cancer vaccines: we have recently discovered a new group of immune-boosting cells in the skin that could improve vaccines for cancer and other infections – Prof Wolfgang Weninger (Immune Imaging)
- T-cells to toughen up immunity: our researchers are looking at the immune’s response against cancer by building up the T-cells anti-tumour response – Prof Barbara Fazekas de St Groth (T-cell Biology)