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Centenary Institute - Medical Research
Centenary Institute - Medical Research

Centenary Institute receives Cancer Council NSW grants

Cancer Council NSW has awarded funding to 14 ground-breaking cancer research projects including three to the Centenary Institute.

Successful Centenary Institute recipients and their research initiatives are:

Professor Geoff McCaughan, Head of the Centenary Institute Liver Injury and Cancer Program. Project: A new approach to target liver cancer.

“Liver cancer is one of the deadliest cancers and is the sixth leading cause of cancer death in Australia. Current therapies for advanced liver cancer are limited and generally only grant a few months of added survival time for the patient. This project will investigate the use of combination therapies for treating liver cancer – an approach which has not yet been widely investigated. We will be using two potential new drug treatments that will target the cancer cells, the surrounding blood vessels and the immune system within the tumour,” said Professor McCaughan

Professor John Rasko AO, Head of the Centenary Institute Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Project: Monitoring and predicting clinical response to immunotherapy against pancreatic cancer and asbestos-induced lung cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma (asbestos-induced lung cancer) are among those cancers currently lacking effective treatments, resulting in poor outcomes with five-year survival rates of less than 10%. More than 3,000 and 700 new cases of pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma, respectively, are annually diagnosed in Australia. This project will use the body’s killer immune cells (T-cells) and endow them with the information as to how to recognise and attack cancer cells (an approach known as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy),” said Professor Rasko.

Dr Ulf Schmitz, Head of the Centenary Institute Computational BioMedicine Laboratory within the Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program and University of Sydney. Project: Deciphering the cross-talk between microRNAs and retained introns in cancer gene regulation.

“This project will investigate a regulatory process known as ‘intron retention’, in both breast cancer and leukaemia. The process allows unwanted ‘junk DNA’ to enter the cell and interfere with other regulatory processes. Intron retention has been found to play a critical role in cancer development, but little is known about the underlying mechanism. Computer models and experimental methods will be used to establish how this process works, potentially opening up an entirely new field of cancer research,” said Dr Schmitz.

The Centenary Institute wishes to thank Cancer Council NSW for their support of our researchers who continue to pursue life-changing and life-saving medical research.

Full details of all successful Cancer Council NSW grants are available online here.

Successful funding for Centenary researchers

Two Centenary Institute researchers have successfully received funding grants through the Perpetual 2019 IMPACT Philanthropy program.

Prof Warwick Britton, Head of the Centenary Tuberculosis Program received funding for his project ‘Visualising how the immune system controls infection and inflammation.’

By using new imaging techniques, he hopes to be able to visualise how the immune system provokes a chronic inflammatory response in infected tissues during TB and leprosy and during immunotherapy, which can cause damage to the lung.

“Both tuberculosis and leprosy are diseases caused by the person’s immediate system reacting to the causative mycobacteria, damaging the lungs and skin/nerves respectively. Understanding how the immune cells cause this damage will help us prevent the permanent damage from these diseases. The funding from Perpetual Trustees will help us to analyse the interaction between immune cells in biopsy samples from TB and leprosy patients. This will utilise newly developed techniques using multiple antibodies to label the different immune cells in biopsy samples. The studies will be done in collaboration with clinicians in Sydney, Sri Lanka and China,” explained Prof Britton.

Dr Hui Emma Zhang received funding for her project titled, ‘Targeting unique enzyme activities for a novel therapy for liver cancer.’

“This funding will greatly facilitate my research on liver cancer, which is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. This funding will help me set up mouse models that recapitulate human liver cancer and evaluate the potential therapeutic benefit of novel drugs that target proteases in the liver,” says Dr Zhang.

The Perpetual 2019 IMPACT Philanthropy program distributes more than $100m annually from charitable trusts and endowments.

Improved insight into tumour growth

The Centenary Institute has collaborated with fellow medical research institute, the Hudson Institute in Victoria, to develop a novel model system for accurately monitoring tumour stage and immune cells involvement.

Head of Centenary’s Liver Enzymes in Metabolism and Inflammation Program, Professor Mark Gorrell, was involved in the research project.

Ovarian cancer develops slowly and the immune system is crucial in controlling the tumour. In this particular study, the researchers modified ovarian cancer cells so they glowed in a way that can be seen in live laboratory mice models – enabling counts of tumour cells and immune cell subsets when each tumour is removed.

This system has allowed the researchers to learn new information on tumour growth, as well as discover which immune cells are in the tumour.

The researchers plan to apply the model to other cancers, including liver cancer.

Read the full study online in scientific journal Cancers.

Learn more about how Professor Gorrell’s team at Centenary is working to help develop a new liver disease test.

New knowledge about a potential pathway for cancer therapies

Centenary Institute scientists have discovered dozens of new likely targets for a particular enzyme (FAP) that is within most tumours; paving the way for the future development of safer and more effective cancer therapies, including liver, lung, skin, colorectal and pancreatic cancers.

Instead of affecting and interacting with just collagen, the researchers have used new technologies to identify 37 molecules which FAP likely modifies.

Co-lead author, Dr Hui Emma Zhang from the Centenary Institute, says this study not only reaffirms the value of FAP in cancer research, but it also provides new avenues through which scientists can target tumour growth.

“Given FAP is fairly unique to damaged cells when compared to healthy cells, the findings from our research will enhance the initial identification and imaging of tumours, as well as provide a safer and more targeted pathway through which anti-cancer therapies can be delivered,” says Dr Zhang.

See the full media release.

Read Identification of Novel Natural Substrates of Fibroblast Activation Protein-alpha by Differential Degradomics and Proteomics in Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.

Pictured: A human liver tumour (large pale cells) surrounding a peninsular of stromal cells (dense blue), with FAP molecules stained dark brown.

A new hope for those at risk of world’s third-deadliest cancer

Centenary Institute scientists have successfully created a more realistic model of primary liver cancer; placing medical researchers in a much better position to develop more effective treatments for the third-most common cause of cancer death worldwide.

“Our novel model has progressed two key areas: fast-tracking the time it takes to conduct modelling, while more closely replicating liver cancer drivers that occur in humans,” says PhD student James Henderson, lead author on the study.

“This places researchers in a much better position to develop effective therapies in future to treat liver cancer in the early stages; reducing the burden on Australia’s health-care system and improving patient outcomes.”

Read the full media release and the published paper

Metaflammation

Metaflammation is a new term that refers to low levels of inflammation throughout the body.

Your body use the essential repair process of inflammation to heal the body. When you have a full blown infection your levels are very high. Metaflammation is different. It is much much lower but constant.

This new aspect of inflammation has come to light, its connection with chronic metabolic diseases, like obesity and diabetes. One of the reasons this link is really important is that we are able to control with small molecule or biological therapeutics some aspects of inflammation. This approach might become really useful in treating some diseases that were thought to be diet or environment influenced and may become a devastating problem in the future.

Inflammation research: why it matters

Diabetes

A third of all diabetics will suffer from vision loss and potential blindness during their lifetime. This condition is caused by inflammation in the retina blood vessels.

Centenary’s Impact 

We have developed an exciting new drug which has the potential to mend the damaged blood vessels and prevent loss of sight.

Read more about our diabetes work here.

Centenary Institute scientists are working on many aspects of inflammation, including metaflammation. For more details on our research approaches see here.