Stem Cells and Cancer
The ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer division studies the normal development of epithelial organs and cancers arising within them.
Epithelial cancers account for approximately 80 per cent of cancers. Epithelial cancers are major causes of disease and death, and improved treatment strategies have resulted in only modest improvements in survival.
We are extending the models that we successfully developed for understanding normal organ development and identifying the cells of origin of breast cancer to other cancer types including ovarian and lung.
Breast cancer affects more than 12,000 Australian women each year. It is the highest disease burden in females, and the leading cause of death in women aged 25-64. Despite a significant improvement in the management of breast cancer over the past few years, more than 2600 women still die from the disease every year, highlighting the pressing need for new strategies to target the disease.
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute embarked on breast cancer research in 1998, when molecular biologist Professor Jane Visvader and clinician-scientist Professor Geoff Lindeman were recruited to establish a laboratory within the institute as part of the Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium.
The cells of origin and molecular mechanisms that underpin different tumour types in breast cancer are poorly understood. To clarify these issues, we are examining different mouse models of breast tumour development for changes in their epithelial cell hierarchy during the pre-neoplastic and neoplastic stages of tumour progression.
Each year, more than 1200 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, an average of three women every day. Ovarian cancer is the sixth major cause of cancer mortality in Australian women, with 800 women dying from the disease every year.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose early and although a small improvement in survival has occurred over the past 20 years, only 40 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are alive five years later (AIHW and NBOCC 2010). Despite efforts to develop screening tools, 80 per cent of epithelial ovarian cancers are diagnosed after they have spread beyond the ovary and 70 per cent are generally incurable. Ovarian cancer develops resistance to current therapies often, so it is essential that we discover new treatments.
The ovarian cancer research team is developing new mouse models of epithelial ovarian cancer to improve molecular testing of ovarian cancer and identify new treatment strategies.
Lung cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer with more than 9000 cases detected per year in Australia and remains the leading cause of cancer death (7500 deaths). Incidence and mortality rates are declining in males but increasing slightly in females. Although lung cancer is highly associated with smoking, non-smoking-associated lung cancer comprises 15 per cent of lung cancers. The five year survival rate for lung cancer is only 12 per cent, highlighting the need for better lung cancer therapies.
The lung cancer research group focuses on understanding the mechanisms involved in lung cancer formation at the molecular and cellular levels. We are using mouse models and human lung cancer specimens in an attempt to find the cells of origin of lung cancers and to identify new molecular targets for therapies.
Professor Geoff Lindeman (Joint division head)
Professor Jane Visvader (Joint division head)