ACRF grant boosts cancer research capability

14 March 2022
Key Researchers
WEHI has received a $3.5 million grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF) to create a multidisciplinary cancer research team that will focus on improving patient treatment options and investigating the cause of drug resistance.

The grant will support the new ACRF Program for Resolving Cancer Complexity and Therapeutic Resistance at WEHI, that will see a team of cancer experts specialising in blood, breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic and skin cancers collaborating to better understand cancer complexity and treatment resistance at a single-cell level.

19 cancer researchers will lead the project

The grant has also enabled WEHI to purchase cutting-edge equipment that will be housed in its purpose-built imaging and genomics facilities. This includes a $2.2 million MIBIscope – one of the first in Australia. Unlike traditional microscopes that use laser technology, the MIBIscope uses an ion beam to constantly take high quality images of cells, or whole tissue sections. This revolutionary imaging platform will allow researchers to accelerate their single-cell research in exquisite molecular detail.

At a glance

  • WEHI has established a new cancer program that will work towards improving treatment options for cancer patients and understanding why some people form drug resistance to these therapies.
  • The new ACRF Program for Resolving Cancer Complexity and Therapeutic Resistance is the result of a $3.5M ACRF grant and will involve a team of cancer experts who specialise in a range of cancers working together to understand the key barriers facing current cancer treatments at a single-cell level.
  • The grant has enabled WEHI to purchase one of Australia’s first MIBIscope machines that can rapidly capture high-resolution imaging needed for this single-cell research in unprecedented molecular detail.

Collaborative goal

The ACRF Program for Resolving Cancer Complexity and Therapeutic Resistance will involve a multidisciplinary team of 19 cancer researchers who are accomplished leaders in varying forms of cancer.

While cancer researchers have made significant progress in diagnosing and treating cancers, many patients still undergo treatment without knowing whether the therapy will be effective, or if their tumour will become resistant to the treatment.

Professor Andrew Roberts AM is one of three lead investigators on the project and said this new initiative will steer researchers towards understanding how to deal with the diversity of cancers and the variability of patients’ responses to treatments.

“This important investment from ACRF will enable us to gain a deeper understanding of how cancers develop at a single-cell level, leading 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,” Professor Roberts said.

Cutting-edge technology

The MIBIscope is the fastest, highest resolution mass spectrometry-based imager ever made.

Unlike traditional microscopes, the MIBIscope can detect up to 40 individual protein markers in a single image, can assess tissue architecture to determine the size and location of tumours in relation to other structures or cells and classify different cell types in the sample with high accuracy. One of a few in Australia, it is also the only machine that is capable of the analysis scale, sensitivity and large sample size proposed in this research program.

WEHI will also add a multiphoton microscope to its arsenal of cutting-edge technology. The advanced microscope will allow researchers to look inside tissue and analyse how cancers grow and change over time.

This new equipment will allow researchers to better understand what drives cancer development and how the genetic diversity in cancers can affect whether a cancer treatment is effective or not. This knowledge will help to develop better ways of personalising cancer therapies to conquer the biggest challenges in cancer today – ultimately predicting and improving patients’ treatment response and overcoming drug resistance.

Crucial support

Institute director Professor Doug Hilton AO said the new ACRF research program was well-positioned to drive the next generation of improvements in treatments for a range of cancers.

“Discoveries are always the pinnacle of collaborations and teamwork, and we recognise that our supporters are vital contributors to making transformative discoveries. ACRF has played a pivotal role in supporting the efforts of WEHI researchers for over 20 years, and I am honoured WEHI has been selected to take the reins on this important new program.

“This grant will allow our researchers to tackle some of the most complex problems in cancer research by providing them with the essential tools required to hopefully one day improve the life of every individual diagnosed with cancer.”

This is the sixth ACRF grant awarded to WEHI, for projects totalling $10.5M.

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