Tag Archives: cancer

Cancer, maths and evolution

Shifting the cancer battleground

 A new French-Australian joint cancer laboratory is forging a new way to study cancer by joining experts from different fields including mathematics, cell biology, evolutionary biology, and behavioural ecology.

Cancer is not only a major cause of human death worldwide, but also a disease that affects all multicellular organisms. Despite this, oncology and other biological sciences such as ecology and evolution have developed in relative isolation, according to Dr Beata Ujvari from the Roles of Cancer in Ecology and Evolution International Associated Laboratory at Deakin University. 

“We know that there is a clear reciprocal interaction between malignant cells and their hosts, with malignant cells evolving in response to the organism’s defence mechanisms,” Beata says.

“Cancer also directly and indirectly impacts the physiology, immunology and behaviour of organisms. But very little is actually known of the evolutionary impact of these complex relationships. We are changing that with this type of research, which has rarely been explored before,” Beata says.

The goal is to transform the understanding of cancer, its origin, how to halt its progression, and to prevent therapeutic failures. At the same time, the role of cancer in ecosystem functioning is something that ecologists need to consider.

Researchers say that cancer’s impact on ecosystems could be significant. It can influence an individual’s competitive and dispersal abilities, susceptibility to pathogens and vulnerability to predation. In some cases, such as the facial tumour disease that afflicts Tasmanian devils, it can heavily impact a species.

The joint laboratory is a collaboration between: Dr Frederic Thomas of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Cancer Research at the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) in France; Deakin University; and the University of Tasmania, Australia. In Australia, the team has partnered with the Tasmanian Government’s Save the Tasmanian Devil Program and Zoos Victoria.

Banner image : Cancer can have a significant impact on species – such as the Tasmanian devil – and even whole ecosystems. Credit: JJ Harrison

The hunt for shapeshifting cancer cells

For a long time, doctors and patients have dreamed of precision oncology, a process that allows specific, effective treatments for individual tumours.

In the past, the complex nature of tumours has made this impossible.

“Within a tumour, there are many different cell populations, each doing different things and behaving in different ways. Most cells will be killed by chemotherapy, but some are not,” says Associate Professor Frederic Hollande of The University of Melbourne.

Continue reading The hunt for shapeshifting cancer cells

Using nanoparticles to better target cancer tumours

Dr Andrew Care from the Department of Molecular Sciences has been awarded a 2018 Early Career Fellowship from the Cancer Institute NSW.

Andrew’s fellowship will fund research looking at how biological nanoparticles can be used to better deliver anti-cancer drugs to destroy tumours.

Andrew and his team are re-engineering protein-based nanoparticles that are normally found in microorganisms, like bacteria. These re-engineered nanoparticles will be capable of carrying anti-cancer drugs to tumours inside the body. Continue reading Using nanoparticles to better target cancer tumours

Improving survival for patients with acute leukaemia

Today, 85 per cent of children with leukaemia can be cured, but the outlook for patients over 60 is bleak. Only 10 per cent survive beyond one year as their cancer adapts to weather the storm of standard chemotherapy treatments. Associate Professor Steven Lane wants to change that outlook.

Steven and his team at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have developed a method to rapidly profile the genetics of different leukaemia types—of which there are hundreds—and model them in the lab.

This allows them to work with many leukaemia types simultaneously, providing a cheaper, faster and more accurate model of the leukaemia. Continue reading Improving survival for patients with acute leukaemia

Immune boost for cancer patients with HIV

Cancer is the leading cause of death among people with HIV and yet cancer treatment can be risky as their immune system is already compromised.

Now, a new class of drugs developed at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales is providing hope—demonstrating it is effective in treating the cancer and strengthening the immune response to that cancer.

Continue reading Immune boost for cancer patients with HIV

Detection of cancer and PTSD

By 2020, multiple sites worldwide will be trialing a non-invasive test for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The machine can determine if soldiers and emergency workers are prone to the disorder, and if so, they may be rested and not immediately deployed again.

Continue reading Detection of cancer and PTSD

Turning off toxic T cells in MS clinical trial

Switching off T cells before they begin to damage the nervous system is the basis of an Australian therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS), which is expected to begin clinical trials by the end of 2017.

Developed by researchers at Victoria University in western Melbourne and the University of Patras in Greece, it brings together peptides, or protein fragments, with a biochemical delivery system already shown to be effective in cancer vaccine clinical trials. Continue reading Turning off toxic T cells in MS clinical trial

Expanding treatments for the ‘Australian’ cancer

The chances of surviving melanoma are getting better every year. But some cancers still become ‘resistant’ to treatment, and others don’t respond at all.

Helen and her colleagues are searching for clues on how people will respond to treatment. Credit: Carolyn Seri for Melanoma Institute Australia Report
Helen and her colleagues are searching for clues on how people will respond to treatment. Credit: Carolyn Seri for Melanoma Institute Australia Report

A collection of over 10,000 blood and 4,900 tissue samples from the biobank at the Melanoma Institute Australia is being used to hunt for clues to predict which patients won’t be responsive to treatment from day one. The researchers, from Macquarie University, are also looking for the basis of developed resistance by the cancer.

Continue reading Expanding treatments for the ‘Australian’ cancer