Three grants from Tour de Cure in 2024 will enable world-leading research in three dedicated cancer areas. The first, the development of spatial transcriptomics to identify immune cell interactions associated with tumour recurrence in liver cancer. The second, will explore stopping tumour growth by blocking symbiotic interactions between cancer cells, and the third will exploit the protein ZNF185 as a new therapeutic vulnerability in pancreatic cancer.
The three Centenary Institute scientists and projects to be supported by Tour de Cure to boost their research in 2024 are:
Dr Chuck Bailey, Centre for Rare Diseases & Gene Therapy
Awarded a ‘Matching Grants – Research’ Grant, $50,000 over one year.
Project Title: Exploiting ZNF185 as a new therapeutic vulnerability in pancreatic cancer
The project will aim to identify why some pancreatic cancer sufferers have poorer survival rates than others.
Research has identified a protein called ZN185 which is a plasma membrane protein (expressed on the outer surface of cells), involved in maintaining normal structural integrity within the cell via its interaction with the actin cytoskeleton, a skeleton or ‘scaffolding’ within the cells. This interaction with actin is essential for how a cancer cell ‘senses’ the environment around it and elicits invasive properties.
In pancreatic cancer, ZNF185 influences the mobility and invasive capacity of cancer cells, acting as a vital ‘signal transducer’ in this process, receiving signals from the nucleus and communicating them to actin (and vice versa). This project will examine whether interfering with this communication network in pancreatic cancer will prevent the aggressive nature of cancer growth and spread from the primary site (i.e. metastasis). Notably, ZNF185 is a marker of poor prognosis, with those PDAC patients with high tumoural ZNF185 expression exhibiting significantly poorer survival. This project offers a new and innovative approach to a significant unmet need in pancreatic cancer.
“This project will also be co-funded by Tour de Rocks. Through this partnership with Tour de Cure we hope to make amazing advances to one day make a difference in the lives of patients and people affected by pancreatic cancer,” said Dr Chuck Bailey.
Associate Professor Guy Lyons, Centre for Cancer Innovations
Awarded a ‘Pioneering Research’ Grant, $50,000 over one year.
Project Title: Stopping tumour growth by blocking symbiotic interactions between cancer cells
This grant will enable Associate Professor Lyons to research the mechanisms of how cells change from being normal to becoming cancer producing cells. Cells of a tumour can have different roles, and they communicate and work as a collective to grow and to spread. This project will research how these cells talk to one another and find ways to disrupt the communications so these cells can no longer help each other to spread and grow throughout the body.
Previous studies have identified that cells in oral cancers that express the mutant protein called Hras produce a factor that enables other cells in the cancer to grow more quickly. Research will look at the interaction of how they become more malignant more quickly and target drugs to block the growth and in turn create better treatments and outcomes for cancer patients.
Associate Professor Lyons commented, “We’re delighted to have been awarded this grant from Tour de Cure. It will enable us to identify the mechanisms that the responding cancer cells use which promote growth through a different mechanism than currently targeted molecules. This funding will help us find new ways of targeting cancers.”
Dr Felix Marsh-Wakefield, Senior Research Officer, Centre for Cancer Innovations
Awarded an ‘Early Career Research’ Grant, $50,000 over 1 year.
Project Title: Using spatial transcriptomics to identify immune cell interactions associated with tumour recurrence in hepatocellular carcinoma.
Liver cancer in Australia is one of the most common cancers and remains one of the deadliest, with a mortality rate of approximately 80%. This is despite an increase in available therapeutics. Most patients will have a liver resection to remove the cancer, but almost half of these patients will go on to have a tumour recurrence within 1-5 years.
The grant will support Dr Marsh-Wakefield to develop a new technique called spatial transcriptomics to investigate the immune cells within liver cancer to identify different cell subsets associated with tumour recurrence. This will allow doctors to more easily predict which patients will go on to develop tumours again after liver resection in the hopes to develop more effective treatments for liver cancer and uncover novel therapeutic targets and decrease the mortality rate.
Dr Marsh-Wakefield said, “This grant will support us to develop spatial transcriptomics. This technique is still very new and allows us to look at individual transcripts (RNA) on tissue sections so we can identify the transcriptome of single cells on the tissue. We’re then able to identify cell interactions as well as give us an idea of the potential function of individual cells where they reside in tissue in the hopes that we can decrease the mortality rate of liver cancer.”
Since its inception in 2007, Tour de Cure has raised over $117 million for cancer research, which has funded 975 cancer projects, and led to 141 major cancer research breakthroughs.