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Cancer Research

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Australia, with one in two men and one in three women diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime.

Partnering with hospitals and health centres in the South Western Sydney region, our researchers work closely with clinicians and patients to improve cancer treatment and transform patient care.

Our flagship programs in cancer research

Our flagship cancer research program is the Australian MRI-Linac, which combines a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner with a Linear Accelerator (Linac) to improve the safety and effectiveness of radiotherapy treatment for cancer.

An Australian-first, this new technology allows doctors to precision target cancers and avoid normal tissues during radiation therapy. About half of all cancer patients need radiotherapy treatment for cancer and the MRI-Linac has the ability to improve treatment without increasing unwanted side effects.

Cancer researchers at the Ingham Institute are also conducting vital work to help detect and stop the spread of cancers via Circulating Tumour Cells (CTC) research.

The Institute is home to one of Australia’s first CTC analysis machines, which identifies cancer cells in the blood. Researchers can isolate these cells and study their genetic makeup. This helps to understand why and how certain cancers spread so a targeted treatment plan can be developed for each patient.

Under the direction of Scientia Professor Michael Barton, CCORE researchers aim to improve cancer outcomes through research and the implementation of best practice measures into routine clinical practice. CCORE researchers have a broad interest in all areas of cancer management. Research extends from the individual cancer patient level to cancer services at state, national and international levels.  CCORE research has led to a number of large collaborative studies that have had a major impact on policy and practice in relation to state, national and international strategic planning projects for cancer services. CCORE researchers have been very productive with many peer-reviewed articles published, contributions to National Tumour Guidelines and commissioned reports. Benchmarks for radiotherapy service delivery that CCORE developed have been adopted throughout Australia, Europe and Great Britain.

Group Leader

Group Leader Scientia Professor Michael Barton Research Director

The Psycho-Oncology Research Group investigates the psychological, social and behavioural aspects of cancer, from the time of a cancer diagnosis until end of life. This research program is translational in its focus, with its priority research areas informed by the challenges faced by those providing and receiving cancer care; application of the most stringent research methods to develop evidence based practice; and early engagement with key stakeholders and policy makers to maximise evidence-informed cancer care.

The team has a strong track record in undertaking translational and health service research to reduce cancer burden, with approximately $13.6 million in Cancer Institute NSW funding through two Translational Health Service Research Grants, a 5-year Translational Cancer Research Centre (CONCERT) grant and a 5-year Translational Program Grant.

The Psycho-Oncology Group also has an international standing in survivorship research. Research on the impact of cancer on caregivers has been widely cited internationally, with key publications awarded Paper of the Year in both 2013 and 2014: Health Services and Epidemiological, South Western Sydney Clinical School, UNSW. The group a number of research focus areas including: a) a supporting illness self-management, with a number of studies specifically focusing on self-management and coping interventions for couples affected by cancer and for men with testicular cancer; b) facilitating shared decision making through use of decision tools; c) understanding the issues faced by patients from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds and developing strategies to reduce inequities in care they experience; and d) using eHealth strategies to enhance patient-centred care. Some of the team’s work is world-leading. For example, since 2013, the team has been working closely with the Cancer Institute NSW to develop and implement an integrated eHealth decision-support system, called PROMPT-Care, for patient reported data capture, linkage and retrieval to support clinical decisions and patient self-management, evaluation and innovative research. This work is highly translational, has been adopted into the cancer centres in two NSW Local Health Districts and is expected to influence the delivery of cancer care in NSW.

 

Group Leader

Professor Afaf Girgis

Cancer Pathology focuses on research on common human cancers such as breast, prostate, colorectal and oropharyngeal cancers, specifically in the investigation of biomarkers of prognosis and treatment response.

Studies are undertaken on innovative methods of treatment in animal models that can be subsequently translated to human cancer management such as targeted alpha therapy. The group is also interested in invitro modelling of newly discovered genes or molecules that may be important in the pathogenesis of some of the common human malignancies.

The group has had a major finding in relation to oropharyngeal cancer (OSCC), discovering that cycling D1 confers significantly worse outcomes in patients with HPV-related OSCC.

Cancer Pathology is also leading Prostate Cancer research, focused on improved biomarkers for detection, prognosis and therapy.

Early detection and improved prognostic testing for prostate cancer will reduce the incidence of fatal metastatic disease and reduce the need for hormonal replacement therapy.

Group Leader

Professor Soon Lee

The Gastro-Intestinal Viral Oncology Group focuses on infectious causes of gastro-intestinal cancer with a special emphasis on Barrett’s oesophagus, a precancerous condition of the oesophagus.

This was the first group in the world to hypothesise (2009 & 2010) and publish (2013, 2014, 2015) evidence to show that human papillomavirus infection is strongly incriminated in the aetiology of Barrett’s dysplasia and oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

The following are world first discoveries made by the Group led by Professor Shan Rajendra.

  • Demonstrated that both increasing hr-HPV viral load and integration status is linked with more severe disease along the Barrett’s metaplasia-dysplasia-adenocarcinoma sequence.
  • In a prospective study showed that persistent hr-HPV infection and p53 overexpression (mutation of a tumour suppressor gene) are associated with treatment failure after endoscopic treatment of Barrett’s dysplasia and oesophageal adenocarcinoma
  • Discovered that HPV associated oesophageal adenocarcinoma had a distinct distribution of molecular aberrations/genomic abnormalities compared with HPV negative oesophageal cancer indicating different biological mechanisms of tumour formation
  • Hybrid sequences containing HPV16 and the human genome were identified in oesophageal cancer providing evidence for a host-viral interaction
  • Recently discovered a molecular signature characteristic of HPV driven Barrett’s dysplasia and oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

The discovery of an infectious agent i.e high-risk HPV 16 and 18 as a aetiological factor in dysplastic and cancerous oesophageal tissue is bringing about a paradigm shift in basic, translational and clinical studies involving Barrett’s oesophagus and adenocarcinoma. It is tempting to speculate that in the near future we may be able to ablate and vaccinate against this condition.

The Group’s findings have been subject of invited lectures and oral presentations at the EUROGIN (European Genital Infections and Neoplasia) Conferences in Florence 2013, Seville 2015, Salzburg 2016, Amsterdam 2017, OESO Conferences in Paris 2013, Geneva 2017, United European Gastroenterology Week (UEGW) in Vienna, 2014 & 2016, 5th Asia-Pacific Gastroesophageal Cancer Congress, Brisbane 2015, and the British Society of Gastroenterology, Endoscopy Masterclass, Nottingham 2015.

The group is supported by the Oesophageal Cancer Research Fund [Directors: Professor Shan Rajendra, Mr. Manu Gupta, Ms Maryanne Chehade] Sam Fayad (COO, Dyldam), Tony Merhi (CEO, Merc Capital),Michael Khattar (Renaissance), Kishen Enterprise Pty Ltd, Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research.

Current research collaborations are with the German Cancer Institute, Heidelberg, Germany, Queen’s Medical Centre, University of Kansas, USA, University of Nottingham and University of Derby, UK.

Group Leader

Professor Shan Rajendra

The Haematology Group has been in existence for over 20 years, growing from one person in 1982 to a team of ten today.

Now based at the Ingham Institute, the group provides Clinical and Laboratory Haematology Services for the South West Sydney LHD, a group of six hospitals serving a population of close to a million people and 3000 public hospital beds. The group supervises the Haematology Laboratories and Blood Banks, one of the busiest in the country.

All Haematological services are provided through the Tertiary referral service at Liverpool Hospital and provide outreach services at the other user hospitals in the group.

Most recently, a big focus area for the group is allogenic transplants, a transplant procedure which may cure a number of blood cancers and other serious diseases including leukaemias, some types of lymphomas, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, aplastic anaemia and other rare bone marrow diseases. The group is currently funding an increasing volume of research and trials, staff and equipment in these areas.

Group Leader

A/Professor David Rosenfeld

The MRI-Linac is state of the art cancer therapy equipment that will see an MRI coupled with a linear accelerator, to be pioneered in Australia at the Ingham Institute. One of only four in the world, the Ingham Institute will be the first medical research institute in Australia to acquire the unique technology that will be housed within the Research Bunker, a key feature of the Institute’s new research precinct.

The group, led by Professor Paul Keall from the University of Sydney, is currently conducting a comprehensive research program to commission and develop a first-generation MRI-Linac. Achieving a significant milestone, the MRI-Linac group was awarded a $5.7 million program grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in December 2011, which resulted in a substantial contribution to infrastructure and research elements of the project.

The MRI-Linac has the ability to accurately locate tumours during a treatment session in real time, offering greater potential of improving patient cancer treatment outcomes. Once the MRI-Linac is operational it will set a new benchmark for cancer treatment in Australia, with the potential to dramatically reduce side effects and improve patient cancer treatment outcomes in over 50 per cent of all cancer patients.

Providing strong evidence for its efficacy, a study published in July 2011 by Prof Keall and collaborators in the international journal Medical Physics modelled key components of the MRI-Linac and supported the high-quality of the technology.

Click here for more information.

Group Leader

Dr Gary Liney

The Pancreatic Research Group (PRG) is acknowledged as a leading group in the world with respect to research into the pathways by which alcohol causes pancreatic damage leading to necrosis of pancreatic acinar cells, inflammation of the gland and, in chronic disease, fibrosis of the pancreas.

 

The PRG at the Ingham Institute has shown that the relationship between stromal cells and cancer cells in pancreatic tumours may be a key factor in defining why the disease is so aggressive. Recent findings by the Group have also changed thinking about how cancer spreads by showing that stromal cells also travel with cancer cells to distant organs where they possibly help cancer cells to settle and grow, consolidating the position of the Group at the cutting edge of international research in the field of pancreatic fibrosis.

 

The PRG is now conducting pre-clinical studies to investigate ways to interrupt the relationship between stromal and cancer cells so as to slow down cancer progression and these studies have shown promising results so far. It is anticipated that these findings, expected to be released by the end of 2012, will suggest a new approach to the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Group Leader

Professor Minoti Apte

The Oncology Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) of the Division of Cancer Services has been operating since July 1993 within the Cancer Therapy Centres of Liverpool, Campbelltown, Braeside and Bankstown Hospitals. The Radiation Oncology, Medical Oncology, Palliative Medicine, Haematology as well as associated surgical and allied health services are encapsulated within these facilities, providing integrated cancer care to the South Western Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) which provides cancer services to a population of over one million people in South Western Sydney.

 

The CTU works with research partners, such as Cancer Institute NSW, NHMRC, pharmaceutical companies and UNSW and UWS to develop and improve cancer treatments. There are currently 10 funded clinical trials staff positions within the unit. Further to this, the CTU is currently actively involved in both cooperative group and physician initiated studies as well as industry sponsored studies, with the aim of improving cancer care and providing access for the patients of SWSLHD to newly developed treatment modalities and the best treatment options available internationally, within the carefully supervised context of clinical trials.

Group Leader

Dr Michael Harvey

Palliative care provides for people with progressive illness and their families. Led by A/Prof Meera Agar, the research of this unit is aimed to explore new medications and new models of care that can provide better outcomes to improve quality of life.

Palliative care research, a field that is relatively new to the research agenda will be of increasing importance as Australia confronts a rapidly ageing community.

Group Leader

Professor Meera Agar

The Medical Physics unit uses basic science and clinical research to improve patient outcomes. The key focus of our research is on radiation oncology treatment and related imaging techniques. Our major research project is the development of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging – Linear Accelerator (MRI-Linac). This is one of only three other similar developments worldwide and will enable real time imaging of patient anatomy during radiotherapy treatment and the potential of improved cancer targeting and a reduction in treatment side effects. Improved cancer targeting will be possible through increased soft tissue contrast available with MRI and the potential of incorporating physiological cancer targeting through advanced MRI pulse sequences.

Supporting this research are other projects assessing the benefits of MRI and other imaging modalities for radiotherapy treatment planning and delivery, the use of advanced radiation dosimeters for treatment verification and the impact of uncertainties in radiotherapy delivery. This work is undertaken within the cancer therapy centres at Liverpool and Macarthur and other collaborating centres. Component projects are focused on specific clinical sites such as lung, breast and prostate.

Group Leader

A/Prof Lois Holloway

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