Professor Stephen Ackland sees a bright future for translational cancer research.
An international Translational Cancer Research Conference to be held in Newcastle later this year will aim to foster a new targeted approach to cancer treatment by improving communication channels between scientists and clinicians.
Conference convenor Professor Stephen Ackland* believes one of the most promising spheres of future research will be finding the molecular abnormalities of each cancer and treating them individually.
“We have tended to consider cancers as being of the breast, of the lung, of the bowel and so on, categorising them according to the tissue’s origin,” Professor Ackland said. “However, a modern and developing view is that cancer is better characterised by abnormalities in the cell rather than where the cell came from.
“Drugs are being developed to inhibit various proteins and enzymes in the body so in future, if pathology identifies something is abnormal or elevated in a particular cancer, clinicians may be able to use an off-the-shelf inhibitor to manage each patient’s cancer more effectively than current chemotherapy or radiation.”
Researchers are currently participating in a global initiative known as the Cancer Genome Atlas, where each of the major cancers is being genetically mapped. The project will conclude next year.
“In NSW we have two major contributions to the Atlas – pancreatic cancer and melanoma – from which a spectrum of genetic abnormalities will be compiled.
Other scientists will have done the spectrum in bowel cancer, for example, and then we’ll be able to look for parallels,” Professor Ackland said.
Translating genetic breakthroughs will require clear communication along the research path from laboratory (T1) to clinical delivery (T3), and health-care systems and cultures around the country will have to evolve to incorporate this new information into management, Professor Ackland added.
He cited the example of molecular profiling in lung cancer, where most patients have fine needle biopsies that are insufficient for molecular analysis, despite known genetic factors that could be treated with inhibitor drugs superior to chemotherapy.
“The medical fraternity has to be prepared to do bigger biopsies. We need support in the operating theatre and pathology on standby to deal with the tissue appropriately and link with the molecular genetics department,” Professor Ackland said. “The goal is to choose therapies that affect the disease more and the patient less.”
The Translational Cancer Research Conference will be held from October 23-25 at Newcastle City Hall. The Conference is currently calling for abstracts for oral and poster presentations.
* Professor Stephen Ackland is Director of Clinical Cancer Research at the Hunter New England Local Health Network (incorporating the Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital) and Director of HMRI’s Cancer Research Program. Cancer research in the Hunter is conducted under the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance, including collaborations with external organisations such as the Cancer Institute of NSW and the Cancer Council.