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ANSTO breast cancer detection breakthrough on the horizon

Image: Synchrotron radiation is emitted by a synchrotron, an extremely powerful particle accelerator.

A new and innovative application of an advanced medical imaging technique is being prepared for clinical application by Australian researchers at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron to improve breast cancer detection and diagnosis.

The research, made possible by the Coalition Government’s $520 million investment in the facility in 2016 as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, will provide better patient outcomes.

The research is being conducted by a group of imaging scientists led by Professor Patrick Brennan of the University of Sydney and Dr Tim Gureyev of the University of Melbourne and uses the Imaging and Medical Beamline at the Australian Synchrotron with the support of Instrument scientist Dr Daniel Häusermann.

The technique, called in-line phase-contrast computed tomography (PCT), is due to be used on the first patients by 2020 and is being developed because of the high error rate that still exists with current medical imaging screening techniques.

The method, which used convention X-rays, was pioneered by Melbourne researchers in the late 1990s, including Professor Keith Nugent the late Dr Stephen Wilkins.

Approximately 30 per cent of cancers are still missed by radiologists and for patients with high breast density the missed cancer rate is over 50 per cent. This can lead to late detection of the cancer, and regrettably, often fatal outcomes from metastasis.

Speaking at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron campus to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, said the research was vitally important for women throughout Australia.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women. There are currently over 800,000 mammograms performed in Australia each year,” Minister Andrews said.

 “As many women will know, the experience of getting a mammogram can be uncomfortable and in too many cases the existing technology means cancers are missed.

 “This research will mean better image quality, a more accurate diagnosis, and a smaller radiation dose. Importantly, there will be no discomfort for patients as the breast compression process will no longer be necessary.”

The work is being supported by ANSTO and an NHMRC grant of $687,000 over three years, to ready the technique for use with the first patients by 2020.

“This investment highlights the Federal Government’s commitment to supporting world-leading research, which has real world benefits for the community.”

Professor Andrew Peele, Director of the Australian Synchrotron, ANSTO said, “This vitally important research, enabled by lead researchers using ANSTO’s world-class Synchrotron and our scientists, highlights the very real benefits that science and technology can deliver to the community,” Professor Peele said.

“This is the first application of the technique using synchrotron radiation in human patients, so there is a great deal of preparation and many things that have to take place before its use. Nonetheless we are greatly encouraged by findings so far.”

A 3D animation of the medical imaging screening process can be found here.

 This article was originally published on ANSTO.gov.au. ANSTO is the home of Australia’s most significant landmark and national infrastructure for research. Thousands of scientists from industry and academia benefit from gaining access to state-of-the-art instruments every year.

Top 10 Science Meets Business Innovations

Featured image above: Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis 

1 THE CURE

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: PRMT5 inhibitors

IMPACT: The Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), with its UK-based commercialisation partner, Cancer Research Technology, has licensed rights to a program of small molecule drugs called PRMT5 inhibitors to MSD (Merck in the US and Canada) in a multimillion-dollar deal. PRMT5 drugs have clinical potential in both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders. The deal involved an upfront payment of $21 million and potential payments in excess of $700 million. A minimum of 70% of those payments will be returned to CTx.

Cancer Therapeutics CRC


2 INNOVATION IN EXPLORATION

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: RoXplorer®

IMPACT: The new RoXplorer® will help access previously hard to locate greenfields (unchartered) mineral deposits beneath the barren surface rocks, which obscure mineralised rocks in about 80% of Australia. RoXplorer® will drill at around one sixth the cost of conventional diamond drilling techniques and be much safer. This will help reverse a two decades old trend which has seen Australia’s share of the world’s expenditure on mineral exploration drop from one quarter to one eighth.

Deep Exploration Technology CRC


3 SAVING EVERY DROP

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Aquarevo

IMPACT: Each of the 44 homes in Australia’s first water sensitive community, Aquarevo, in Lyndhurst, Victoria, requires approximately 70% less mains water than a regular suburban house. The homes catch, filter and treat most of their own water supply. Houses are plumbed with three types of water – drinking, recycled and rainwater – which means drinking water won’t
be flushed down the toilet. The project was developed in conjunction with Villawood properties and South East Water.

CRC for Water Sensitive Cities


4 DRIVING ON EMPTY

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: eBus

IMPACT: A partnership of the AutoCRC, Swinburne University of Technology’s Electric Vehicle Laboratory and Bustech (part of Transit Australia Group), this is the first electric bus to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia. The buses are, on average, 80% cheaper to maintain than the current diesel buses. Each seat has a USB charger for mobile devices and the buses seat 50 passengers. Late last year, Bustech signed a deal to produce buses for the South Australian government.

Excellerate Australia (Automotive Australia 2020 CRC)


5 THE DEMISE OF CASH

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: digi.cash

IMPACT: digi.cash is a system that allows the issuing and circulation of many different kinds of electronic cash. It can be stored on phones, computers or an external storage drive like a USB and can be sent the same way as any other file. The digi.cash founder Andreas Furche says it is “much faster than Blockchain-based so-called cryptocurrencies, and much better suited for centrally issued financial instruments, like national currencies, or shares”.

Capital Markets CRC digi.cash


6 SAFETY FIRST

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: “If It’s Flooded, Forget it” campaign

IMPACT: Multimedia communications encouraging specific behaviour during disasters can be challenging. The BNHCRC has proven that use of the right visual imagery in official emergency warning communications assist people to act appropriately. Early versions of the “If it’s Flooded, Forget it” preparedness campaign inadvertently showed people engaged in “exactly the activity that we are trying to prevent” according to QUT’s Professor Vivienne Tippett, who is a BNHCRC lead researcher. New versions of the campaign involve a 4WD coming to a flooded waterway and deciding not to drive through, “the behaviour we’re trying to encourage”.

Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC


7 SWIMMING UPSTREAM

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Carp bio-control virus

IMPACT: Carp are one of the worst introduced freshwater aquatic species in Australia with an economic impact estimated at up to $500 million per year. A new carp bio-control virus with potential to kill up to 95% of individual carp is ready to be released.  “Ten years of CRC research has basically given the answer the carp bio-control agent is safe and useable,” says Invasive Animals CRC communications manager, Ian McDonald. The virus will be most effective in the first couple of years of use.

Invasive animals CRC


8 AIMING HIGH

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: International collaboration on laser signals

IMPACT: In collaboration with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, researchers from the CRC for Space Environment Management sent a beam of light, via an electro-optic laser from Mt Stromlo in Canberra, 6.7 million km away to an accelerating Japanese satellite called Hayabusa 2. It showed that a laser of this capacity can reach space debris in near-Earth orbit and is a significant step towards being able to more accurately track and eventually manoeuvre space debris (see “Shining a light on space debris”).

CRC for Space Environment Management 


9 FIGHTING MORE THAN FIRES

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Assessing measurement of toxic chemicals

IMPACT: PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are common toxic synthetic fluorinated chemicals. While being phased out, they are still encountered in fire-fighting chemicals. The National Measurement Institute collaborated with EPA Victoria on a CRC CARE project to conduct Australia’s first proficiency studies for these contaminants. These studies are an important tool for assessing contamination.

CRC CARE


10 ON THIN ICE

TECHNOLOGY/PROGRAM: Totten Glacier thinning

IMPACT: Taking advantage of a long crack that opened up in sea ice (which is normally impenetrable to ships), ACE CRC researchers used Australia’s icebreaker Aurora Australis to confirm that the Totten Glacier, East Antarctica’s largest glacier, is melting from below as warm ocean water reaches the ice shelf. Totten has the highest basal melt rate among Eastern Antarctic ice shelves and contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by about 3.5m if it melted completely.

 Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC

funding cancer research

Cancer research investment boost

Featured image above: Cancer research at the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre has received a funding boost. Credit: CTx

The Chief Executive of the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre (CTx), Dr Warwick Tong, announced last week that a majority of its current partners have chosen to reinvest their share of the recent cash distribution from CTx back into the organisation.

In January 2016 CTx licensed its PRMT5 Project to MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada) in a landmark deal and received over $14 million dollars as its share of the signature payment. Novel drugs arising from the project will be developed and commercialised by Merck. Potential future milestone payments and royalties will also be shared within the partnership.

“Our 2013 application to the Department of Industry CRC Programme outlined the intent to actively secure reinvestment of funds from any commercialisation success back into our cancer drug development activities”, said Tong. “To have this commitment from our partners is the validation and support we wanted.

“The more than seven million dollars will boost our ability to deliver new cancer drugs for adults and children”.

“CTx has made great use of its partnership network to deliver this project,” said Professor Grant McArthur Chair of the CTx Scientific Advisory Board. “The reinvestment is a very positive recognition by the partners that CTx will continue to provide benefits for patients and strengthen translational cancer research in Australia”.

This article was first published by the Cancer Therapeutics Cooperative Research Centre on 29 June 2016. Read the original article here.

To read more articles on research funding, visit:

$22.6 million research funding – A round of applications is expected to open in August for 11 newly funded Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) projects.

Australian research funding infographic – The latest OECD figures reveal how Australia’s science and research funding compares with other countries.

CtX forges $730 m deal for new cancer drug

The new cancer drug, which was developed with support from the UK-based Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Technology (CRT), has potential clinical applications in both cancer and hemoglobinopathies (non-cancer blood disorders).

According to Dr Tom Peat from CSIRO, one of the key research partners in CTx, the new cancer drug is designed to inhibit the protein PRMT5, which is associated with a range of cancers, including mantle cell lymphoma, lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

“Patients who have these types of cancers often have high levels of this protein, which is unfortunately also linked to poor survival rates,” Peat said.

“Using our recombinant protein production facilities, we were able to produce samples of these proteins, crystallise them for structure based drug design and support the consortium’s pre-commercial investigations and trials.

“Access to high quality protein is absolutely critical in structural biology approaches to drug discovery, and CSIRO is pleased to be able to contribute this key capability.

“The CTx consortium was able to develop a drug that binds to this protein, allowing it to target the cancerous cells.

“We’re thrilled to be part of this development, which has the potential to make a real difference for patients here in Australia and around the globe.”

Under the terms of the license, Merck US will now further develop the new cancer drug, taking it to clinical trials, with a view to worldwide commercialisation.

Science commercialisation success

“This is a great result for Australian science and further demonstrates what can be achieved when science and commercialisation capabilities unite,” CTx chief executive Dr Warwick Tong said.

In addition to applications for cancer, PRMT5 inhibitors switch on important genes in the development of blood.

This could provide disease-modifying treatment options for patients with blood disorders like sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

The deal provides potentially significant financial returns, which will be shared between CRT, CTx and the Wellcome Trust, with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners including CSIRO, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

 

This article was originally published by CSIRO.

Targeting kids’ cancer, gene by gene

The personalised medicine platform, which is being developed and applied with the support of the Cancer Therapeutics CRC, will tailor each child’s cancer treatment to the particular genetics of their individual tumour.

Then, using a combination of in vitro cell growth and testing on mice, treatment will be determined by the response in the laboratory of their own cancer cells to drugs.

The project, led by Professor Michelle Haber, Executive Director of Australia’s Children’s Cancer Institute, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the USA, has been kickstarted with approximately $7.5 million in funding from the CRC budget.

CCIA Laboratories, Lowy Institute“Although the survival rate of children’s cancer is now about 80%, this still means that on average about three kids in Australia are dying [from the disease] every week,” said Haber, who won the 2014 NSW Premier’s Award for Outstanding Cancer Research.

She said it was clear that individualised treatment is needed. “Two children can have the same diagnosis, but the standard treatment regimen will work for one child and fail with the other,” she explained.

The first step in the new approach is to take cells from a child’s tumour and run them through a set of molecular profiling tests, which reveal the genetic make-up of the cancer.

Haber’s team will soon settle on a panel of about 80 treatable genetic abnormalities for their targeted molecular profiling tests.
“We’ve trawled through the entire literature, pulling out what is known about genes that may be suitable for molecular targeted drug treatment,” she said. “This hasn’t been done for paediatric cancer before.”

The next step is to grow the child’s tumour cells. This is done either in laboratory flasks or in mice with deficient immune systems, known as ‘avatar mice’.

By rapidly scanning the cells, the researchers can test many drugs, either alone or in combinations, to see whether they knock back the cancer. And they don’t just try cancer drugs. Haber said that drugs as disparate as beta-blockers used in heart disease, as well as malaria drugs, can have anti-cancer effects.

Once a drug is shown to work in vitro, the next step is to use it in the avatar mice.

CCIA Laboratories, Lowy Institute“We have been very excited by the excellent responses of the first patients to have their therapy modified by their treating clinicians, on the basis of information being generated from this new personalised medicine platform,” said Haber.

Clinical trials of the platform, to be spearheaded by Sydney Children’s Hospital, are scheduled for 2017. However, Haber hopes it will be sooner than that.

“The CRC funding is invaluable,” she said. “It is paying for vital staff and their research supplies. Of course, this is just the beginning for the platform and we will only be able to handle a few patients at first.

“Our plan is that, eventually, the treatment platform will be offered to every child in the country who has a high-risk malignancy.”

Clare Pain