$3.5M ACRF grant to tackle cancer complexity

28 November 2019
Key Researchers
Group of people standing and smiling at camera
A team of world-class cancer experts specialising in
blood, breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic and skin cancers
will use cutting-edge technologies to study cancer
complexity and treatment resistance.
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers have won a $3.5 million ACRF grant to conquer the biggest challenges in cancer today – predicting and improving patients’ treatment response and overcoming drug resistance.

The ACRF Program for Resolving Cancer Complexity and Therapeutic Resistance will provide a team of world-class cancer experts at the Institute with cutting-edge technologies to study individual cancers and the environment they interact with, at a single cell level.

At a glance

The ACRF Program for Resolving Cancer Complexity and Therapeutic Resistance will discover:

  • the triggers that drive cancer development.
  • how cancer complexity and diversity make cancers sensitive or resistant to conventional and targeted therapies.
  • better ways of personalising cancer therapies to better predict treatment response and overcome drug resistance.

A complex disease

In the past few decades, cancer researchers have made great strides in diagnosing and treating cancers – in some cases completely changing the outlook for patients. However, for many patients it is impossible to know how their cancer will respond to standard treatments, whether targeted therapies will be effective or if their tumour will become resistant to cancer therapies.

Professor Jane Visvader, Professor Andrew Roberts and Professor Clare Scott are leading the ACRF program.

Professor Visvader said the challenge was that cancer cells were not all the same – between patients or even within a single patient.

“Cancer is a very complex and diverse disease,” Professor Visvader said.

“Breast cancer, for example, is not a single disease – it encompasses a multitude of diseases with different genetic drivers, that start in different cells and have different patterns of growth and spread. Cancer is also not a static disease; it evolves over time and as a result of therapy, it changes in response to other cells in its immediate environment.”

Critical mass

The ACRF Program for Resolving Cancer Complexity and Therapeutic Resistance will bring together cancer biologists, clinicians, bioinformaticians, computational biologists and technology experts, and provide them with a suite of new research capabilities to resolve cancer complexity and therapeutic response in individual patient cancers at the single cell level.

The multidisciplinary, collaborative team will include 19 cancer experts and their teams who are accomplished leaders in breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic and skin cancers, acute and chronic leukaemias, lymphoma and myeloma.

Better treatment options

Professor Scott said the complexity and diversity of cancers at a single cell level, and the cells that make up the tumour microenvironment, had a profound effect on prognosis and treatment response.

“This important investment from the ACRF will enable us to gain a deeper understanding of how cancers develop at a single cell level. We will be able to discover important information about cancer cells that was not previously possible,” Professor Scott said.

“This program will lead to breakthroughs in how we personalise cancer therapy that will have a real impact for patients in the future, improving treatment response and overcoming treatment resistance.”

The grant was one of two awarded by the ACRF this year. It is the sixth ACRF grant awarded to the Institute, for projects totalling $10.5M.

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