Cancer research news from Garvan
Some exciting research by Garvan researchers in the Kinghorn Cancer Centre in 2013 includes:
– Potential treatment for a specific kind of pancreatic cancer: Pancreatic cancer surgeon and Garvan researcher Prof Andrew Biankin and colleagues Drs Angela Chou and Mark Crowley in collaboration with University of Queensland have identified a potentially treatable subtype of pancreatic cancer, which accounts for 2% of new cases. This subtype expresses high levels of the HER2 gene (photo on the left is a tissue sample stained red to highlight the HER2 gene) and HER2-amplified breast and gastric cancers are currently treated with Herceptin.
The new study, published in Genome Medicine, used a combination of modern genetics and traditional pathology to estimate the prevalence of HER2-amplified pancreatic cancer. Herceptin is not currently available for treating HER2-amplified pancreatic cancer as no clinical trial has yet been conducted to determine the drug’s efficacy in that case.
Garvan, in collaboration with The Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group, is recruiting pancreatic cancer patients through the APGI for a pilot clinical trial, known as ‘IMPaCT’, to test personalised medicine strategies. Potential patients will be screened for specific genetic characteristics, including high levels of HER2, based on their biological material sequenced as part of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative study.
– New hope for hormone resistant breast cancer: Garvan’s Dr Andrew Stone, Prof Susan Clark and Prof Liz Musgrove, in collaboration with scientists from Cardiff University, have shown that a specific change, which occurs when tumours become resistant to anti-oestrogen therapy, might make the cancers susceptible to treatment with chemotherapy drugs.
The research team demonstrated that the BCL-2 gene, which is fundamental in keeping cells alive, is epigenetically – a process that makes changes in cells that impact DNA – silenced in oestrogen-resistant tumours. The findings are online in the international journal Molecular Cancer Therapetics. When the BCL-2 gene is silenced, cells become more vulnerable to chemotherapy. This process is potentially detectable in the blood, providing a diagnostic marker.
“The next step will be to test our findings in clinical studies. We propose that if the BCL-2 gene is silenced, patients with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer would benefit from combination therapy. Tamoxifen could be used in combination with a chemotheraphy drug to kill off vulnerable tumour cells,” said Dr Stone.
Cancer services/care news from St Vincent’s
Officially opened by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 28th August 2012, TKCC has since had many high profile visitors, including Governor-General Quentin Bryce, NSW Governor Prof Maria Bashir and previous Health Minister Tanya Plibersek. Much has been achieved since the opening to establish a fully operational centre including the relocation of most of Garvan’s cancer labs and some of St Vincent’s cancer care services; as well as installation of next generation, state-of-the-art gene sequencing equipment.
On the clinical side, those staff and services chosen to move from St Vincent’s Hospital to TKCC in Phase 1, such as chemotherapy and outpatient facilities, medical, nursing, allied health and clinical trial and cancer registry staff, were settled in by April 2013. The first year has seen TKCC treat some 15,000 patients, many of whom have provided their feedback via a formal survey process, the results of which have been highly positive in all facets. The quality of the environment and the care provided have all been highly rated by patients, which will be of no surprise to anyone who has entered the building.
Going forward patients will also have access to additional allied health services such as nutritional experts, massage therapists and acupuncture, with the future opening of the Wellness Centre.
In recognition of the great research and clinical care given at TKCC, the Government announced in May this year a $5.5 million boost over 4 years to TKCC’s National Prostate Cancer Research Centre.
“This injection of funds is tremendous news for men affected by, and at risk of, prostate cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in Australia and which takes the lives of over 3,000 men every year,” said Prof Allan Spigelman, Acting Director, The Kinghorn Cancer Centre.
Celebrating 1 year anniversary of The Kinghorn Cancer Centre
Garvan and St Vincent’s Hospital staff came together in the John Shine Room in September to celebrate the first anniversary of The Kinghorn Cancer Centre (TKCC). Sister of Charity Anthea Groves (right in picture) reflected on the importance of TKCC to the mission of the sisters and provided a blessing.
Acting Director and Clinical Director Prof Allan Spigelman (left in picture) spoke about the creation of the joint facility and shared positive feedback from patients, while Head of Garvan’s Cancer Research Program, Prof Sue Clark (center in picture), took the opportunity to reflect on the significant contribution of the late Prof Rob Sutherland in the creation of the Centre and its vision.