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Hunter Scores New Cancer Equipment Grants

Aug 19 2015

Professors Stephen Ackland and Xu Dong Zhang
Professors Stephen Ackland and Xu Dong Zhang are equipment grant recipients.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has announced 17 recipients for the 2015 Cancer Institute NSW Research Equipment Grants, with University of Newcastle researchers Professor Stephen Ackland and Professor Xu Dong Zhang among them.

The $5.5 million total investment will provide leading researchers from eight institutions with the tools they need to gain new insights into cancer.

Professor Ackland, head of the HMRI Cancer Program, receives $125,000 for a ‘live cell imager’ that will enhance pre-clinical cancer studies in the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance (HCRA).

“Understanding how a cancer cell behaves – including its normal growth, migration capacity and response to cancer therapies – is critical for identifying factors that can prevent cancer progression and stop its growth,” Professor Ackland said.

“The IncuCyte ZOOM unit enables the imaging of live cancer cells to evaluate new therapies or determine how new biomarkers of cancer progression work. This type of analysis is particularly pertinent where the abnormal behaviour of a single cell can lead to increased migration, invasion and subsequent metastasis to distant sites – the leading cause of death from cancer.”

Professor Zhang and his team are awarded $500,000 for a mass spectrometry platform that will enable the discovery of novel cancer biomarkers and drug targets.

Dr Matthew Dun, a Cancer Institute of NSW research fellow working with Professor Zhang, says the high-resolution mass spectrometer will detect molecules from within tumours that have previously been indiscernible or not known to affect the initiation and development of complex cancers.

“It will give us important clues into which molecules produced by cancer cells we can target with new drugs, or indeed reposition existing drugs,” Dr Dun said. “We’ll be able to monitor how effective our new treatments are and alter a patient’s treatment to better target the molecules that the cancer cells use to help them grow.”

Mrs Skinner said the NSW Government was committed to supporting researchers to fast-track these discoveries into treatments and therapies for people with cancer across NSW.

“Through these grants, we are providing our best research minds with the technologies they need to make ground-breaking discoveries, including personalised drug treatments, new therapies to block cancer growth and greater understanding of how cancer genes behave,” she said.

Cancer Institute NSW chief executive and NSW Chief Cancer Officer Professor David Currow said: “NSW remains at the forefront of cancer discovery and this investment supports our scientists to enhance the quality of their research and broaden the scope of their work.

“The Cancer Institute NSW is proud to support the work of our brilliant cancer researchers, which not only benefits the people of our state but also contributes to the global cancer research community.”

* Professors Stephen Ackland and Xu Dong Zhang from the University of Newcastle research in conjunction with the HMRI Cancer Research Program. Mass Spectrometry grant investigators include Xu Dong Zhang, Matthew Dun, Jennifer Martin, Hubert Hondermarck, John Aitken, Nikki Verrills, Pradeep Tanwar and Rodney Scott from the University of Newcastle plus Maria Kavallaris (University of NSW) and Darren Saunders (Garvan). Live Cell Imager grant investigators include Stephen Ackland, Dr Kelly Avery-Kiejda, Xu Dong Zhang, Christopher Scarlett, Pradeep Tanwar, Kathryn Skelding, Nikola Bowden and Rick Thorne from the University of Newcastle, along with Kevin Spring (University of Western Sydney) and Deborah Marsh (Kolling Institute). HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the Community.