Cell death genes essential for cancer therapy identified.

New research has uncovered why certain cancers don’t respond to conventional chemotherapy, highlighting the need to match treatments to cancers better. [click to continue…]

Radiation beams directed at the lung cancer. Credit: Sarah Everitt, Peter MacCallum Cancer CentreA team of Victorian researchers have discovered how to track if lung tumours respond during a course of treatment. Trials with five patients revealed that some tumours responded quickly to treatment while others continued to grow. A larger trial is now underway with twenty patients.

The new technique could transform lung cancer treatment. [click to continue…]

Researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) have developed a way to deliver drugs which can specifically shut down cancer-causing genes in tumour cells while sparing normal healthy tissues.

Sherry Wu in the lab. Credit: Sherry Wu

Sherry Wu in the lab. Credit: Sherry Wu

They are currently looking at cervical cancer. While cervical cancer vaccines – co-developed by Professor Ian Frazer at UQ – are reducing the chances of infection with the virus that causes the cancer, many thousands of women worldwide are likely to contract cervical cancer in the next few decades.

Fresh Scientist Ms Sherry Wu hopes the new technique, which involves the use of coatings rich in fats, will hasten the application of RNA interference or gene-silencing, a technology which can inactivate individual genes. Using this technology, she and her colleagues observed a 70% reduction in tumour size in a cervical cancer mouse model. [click to continue…]

A new system for directing radiation to target cells has been developed in Melbourne. The new targeting system has the potential to specifically destroy cancer cells with minimal damage to healthy tissues.

The new targeting concept, for which an international patent is pending, uses a special class of radioactive atoms for which the radiation damage is confined to the molecules immediately adjacent to the radioactive atom.

The cell-killing effect is maximised by directing the radiation to the genetic material (DNA) of the target cell, with little effect on neighbouring cells.

“We expect that our targeting system will be particularly useful for small clusters of cancer cells, such as those that spread throughout the body when a cancer becomes more advanced,” says Dr Tom Karagiannis, research officer with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre where the system was devised.

Conventional cancer therapies such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy have resulted in a steady decline in cancer mortality rates over the years.  Only chemotherapy has the potential to be effective when the cancer has spread throughout the body, but often it is not effective.

Latest figures from the World Health Organization show that about 50 percent of cancer patients still die in developed countries and about 80 percent die in developing countries.

A unique feature of the cancer targeting system is the highly focussed damage caused by the radioactive isotopes used – most of the radiation damage is within a distance of only a few millionths of a millimetre.  This means they can kill cancer cells without causing significant damage to normal cells.

The new technology combines knowledge from a wide range of scientific disciplines, including radiation biology, chemistry and immunology, Dr Karagiannis says.  The key ingredient is a complex composite drug, made by attaching the radioactive atom to a DNA-binding molecule, which in turn is linked to a cancer-targeting protein such as an antibody.

“Our radiolabelled DNA-binding drug alone provided a very efficient ‘molecular bomb’ for destroying cells,” says Dr Karagiannis. “But it could not discriminate between cancer cells and healthy cells.”

To make a ‘smarter’ drug, researchers took advantage of the fact that many cancer cells express high levels of certain proteins on their cell surface. Antibodies that bind specifically to these surface proteins were used as vehicles to target the lethal damage to cancer cells.

“Our strategy builds on the growing interest in antibodies as cancer therapeutics,” says Associate Professor Roger Martin, Tom’s supervisor who has been working on the project concept for the past three decades.

“There are a currently only a handful of such anticancer-antibodies that have been approved for therapy and many others that are in clinical trials.”

Proof-of-principle studies with the new targeting system have yielded very promising results with cell cultures, but a commercial partner is required for further development.

Tom is one of 13 Fresh Scientists who are presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian Governments. One of the Fresh Scientists will win a trip to the UK courtesy of the British Council to present his or her work to the Royal Institution.

Are cancer cells confused?

30 August 2004

in 2004

Scientists have recently discovered that the gene EDD is implicated in the development of breast and ovarian cancer. And like the horse, this gene is into talking.

“Cancer arises from defects in cell growth and division. We are now beginning to realise that defective cellular communication can also lead to cancer,” says Professor Rob Sutherland, Director of the Cancer Research Program at Garvan Institute.

Cells “talk” to each other in the developing embryo to coordinate themselves into higher structures like organs and blood vessels. Vigilant communication and coordination between cells is essential throughout life to maintain these structures.

Part of EDD’s job is to tell cells where to go. Garvan scientists have shown that mice without EDD have the cells to make blood vessels but they are unable to coordinate their development. Without EDD cells become confused.

Cancer is often caused by cells producing too many copies of key cancer genes. Work at Garvan has demonstrated that excess copies of the EDD gene are present in 73% of one aggressive type of ovarian cancer and that excessive amounts of the EDD protein are found in 63% of breast cancers and 39% of ovarian cancers. Garvan research aims to define whether too much EDD is crucial to the development of these cancers.

“We now anticipate that this research will have practical applications,” says Garvan Scientist Jennifer Clancy.

Jennifer is one of 15 early-career scientists presenting their work to the media as part of the national Fresh Science competition.

“We are currently looking at whether excess levels of EDD can help us predict the behaviour of a cancer. This could assist doctors in deciding how best to treat future cancer patients.”

Key questions of how altered levels of EDD lead to cellular confusion, and whether this leads to cancer, are current areas of research at Garvan.

“We expect that future work will yield more clues to the function of this fascinating gene and the role of communication in the development of cancer,” says Jennifer Clancy, “More importantly, one day this research may provide better treatment options to future cancer patients.”

When the EDD gene is mutated in fruit flies, it causes fly ‘cancer’    Cells without the EDD gene cannot coordinate the formation of blood vessels. 
Cells without EDD do not communicate well with adjacent cells    The amount of EDD protein produced in breast and ovarian cancer tissue 

The cells in our bodies talk with each other. Tapping into their communication could give an early warning of heart disease according to new research by Katharina Gaus, a researcher from the University of New South Wales. [click to continue…]

Researchers have discovered an underlying cause of asthma-the muscle cells surrounding the airways of people with asthma grow twice as fast as those of non-asthmatics, leading to more muscle tissue.

During an asthma attack the muscle tissue which surrounds the airways contracts. The new study suggests that this contraction is severe in people with asthma because of the extra muscle tissue present. [click to continue…]


Are we viruses?

26 August 2001

in 2001

A radical new theory that could dramatically alter the way scientists view the evolution of life has been recently accepted for publication in the leading “Journal of Molecular Evolution”.  Supported by an increasing body of evidence, the theory proposes that the nucleus of our cells evolved from a virus that infected ancient bacteria-like organisms. [click to continue…]

Fossil molecules from cells of bacteria and algae many millions of years old may hold the key to reading life signals from extra terrestrial sources, according to research conducted by AGSO – Geoscience Australia researcher, Dr Graham Logan.

Some molecules within living cells fossilise very well and can reveal evidence of past life, environments and geothermal processes.

Geologists have been studying such fossils in their quest to better understand the formation of major mineral deposits of lead, zinc and silver. Such an understanding will lead to better and more efficient exploration of new Australian mineral deposits.

Dr Logan studied the 1640 million-year old lead-zinc-silver deposit at McArthur River in the Northern Territory. [click to continue…]

With Ross River virus infecting an increasing number of Australians each year (5000-7000 cases), researchers have discovered how it tricks our body’s defences.

New research conducted by Dr Surendran Mahalingam and Dr Brett Lidbury firstly at the University of Canberra and now at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (Australian National University) has found that the Ross River virus has developed an ingenious strategy for avoiding the body’s natural immune system. [click to continue…]

Queensland researchers have discovered new genes that are important in producing the ‘slime’ that protects the human colon from cancer-causing agents.

Currently about one in 23 Australians are likely to develop colorectal cancer, a disease that attacks the lining of the colon and rectum at the end of the human digestive system. [click to continue…]

As we breathe, lung movements could be killing the very cells we need for gas exchange. Flinders University researcher Dr Yasmin Edwards and her colleagues have discovered that macrophages, best known for their role in scavenging dead cells, may actually prevent living cells from dying by producing a protective gas. [click to continue…]

Genes & Epilepsy: How do they “fit”? – Robyn Wallace

Robyn has identified the first gene known to cause febrile seziures. This is a specific form of epilepsy that affects young children. [click to continue…]

It is now possible to measure what every single gene is doing simultaneously in a cell under a variety of conditions. This enables scientists to say “Eureka! I’ve discovered a million numbers!” Unfortunately, their colleagues reply “And?” Andrew Conway is helping biochemists find meaning in their data. [click to continue…]

New research by an Australian student reveals the code our bodies use to control our immune systems. Her work could have tremendous medical benefits.

Unlocking this code represents a dramatic step forward in the fight to prevent autoimmune disease, allergies and to improve vaccines. [click to continue…]

A new generation of vaccines is closer, thanks to research work by a young Melbourne scientist on DNA vaccines. [click to continue…]