The Kinghorn Cancer Centre eNews Issue 13 – December 2014

Cancer Division news from Garvan

Some exciting news from the Garvan team in the Kinghorn Cancer Centre.

Garvan researchers ranked as top applicants for Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships

Dr Marina Pajic and Dr Mark Cowley from Garvan were awarded Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships this year, each ranked as top applicant in their category, a Career Development Fellowship and Early Career Fellowship respectively.

Mark Cowley is one of twenty researchers from various universities and research institutes across the State to receive an Early Career Fellowship. Marina Pajic is one of four researchers to receive a Career Development Fellowship.

Marina Pajic leads a research group with an interest in developing new ways to treat pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer death. The molecular make-up of pancreatic tumours varies greatly, with different combinations of thousands of genetic mutations possible. Some tumour subtypes can be targeted with known drugs.

Mark Cowley is a bioinformatics expert who will be combining his cancer genomics expertise with the expertise of colleagues who will create animal models of breast cancer. Mark will study tumour progression in those models by regularly extracting DNA from blood, sequencing the DNA, and running algorithms—which he will develop—to analyse the results.

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Garvan researcher creates spectacular biomedical animation of pancreatic cancer

Three biomedical animations recently premiered at Melbourne’s Deakin Edge theatre in Federation Square, and are now available for television broadcast and online education.

The creators are three scientist-animators: Dr Kate Patterson from Garvan, Chris Hammang from CSIRO, and Dr Maja Divjak from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Called “VIZBIplus – Visualising the Future of Biomedicine”, the project is led jointly by Dr Kate Patterson, Dr Sean O’Donoghue from CSIRO and Garvan and Mr Drew Berry from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

Kate Patterson’s animation shows that cancer is not a single disease. She highlights the role of the tumour suppressor protein p53, known as ‘the guardian of the cell’, in the formation of many cancer types.

“Mutated p53 is just one of thousands of mistakes that can occur in cancer,” said Kate.

“DNA sequencing and other new technologies now enable these mistakes to be detected in individual cancers. What’s really exciting is that different types of cancer can share some molecular mistakes which means treatments developed for one cancer could be used to treat another.”

View Dr Patterson’s video

Cancer services/care news from St Vincent’s

By Professor Allan Spigelman, Director, St Vincent’s Cancer and Immunology Program

Progress continued to be made in attaining our goal of realising “the promise of personalised innovative medicine for people affected with cancer” in the past year.

TKCC facilities were used by 22,636 patients, an increase of 8.5% when compared with pre-TKCC activity at St Vincent’s Hospital. There has been an even greater increase in the percentage of patients receiving chemotherapy, with 12% more patients treated in the TKCC Chemotherapy Suite (the Nelune Centre) than at St Vincent’s prior to the opening of TKCC. In addition, the St Vincent’s Hospital Hereditary Cancer Clinic in TKCC saw a 86% increase in new referrals. Further negotiations are in place to establish both the Wellness Centre and café on the ground floor level of TKCC.

The professional and social interaction between clinicians and researchers has gathered pace, with greater interaction between the two groups both at formal meetings and at combined social events. The design of TKCC facilitates interaction by collision, as well as by collusion; the tea rooms/refreshment stations being a focal point not just for water cooler chat but for discussions on breaking research news.

Acquisition of the latest gene sequencing equipment (the HiSeq X Ten Sequencing System) will allow whole human genome sequencing in TKCC at much reduced cost. The system is produced by American company Illumina Inc., whose CEO commented that ”we approached the Garvan Institute due to its strength in the analysis and interpretation of genomic data, and its close affiliation with St Vincent’s Hospital.” This state-of-the-art system, which exemplifies the translational research paradigm, whereby patients benefit rapidly from the close interaction between researchers and clinicians within TKCC, was purchased once again with the generous support of the Kinghorn Foundation. The new system will be used for large-scale research projects and for problem-dependent diagnostic purposes, including the routine analysis of cancer biopsies.

It was a pleasure to have been present at the conception, inception and implementation of our cancer centre. I welcome Professor David Thomas as incoming Director, TKCC, to the substantive post, commencing in mid-2014, and acknowledge the outstanding contribution of the late Professor Robert Sutherland in the planning for TKCC.

I thank all who have made TKCC a reality. As a result, we have a secure base in which our patients can be seen and treated in comfort, where our staff can work in spacious and modern conditions and where we can hasten the development of effective treatments and quality of life improvements for those who require our care.