Funding specialist data analysts in the new area of bioinformatics - Centre for Cancer Biology ACRF Cancer Genomics Facility
In recent times there have been amazing advances in genomics technologies. These allow scientists and clinicians to identify the gene mutations and errors in gene activity that cause cancer in the first place, and that drive some cancers to malignancy. This will ultimately be extremely important for patients for several reasons.
No two cancers are identical, so being able to produce a genetic fingerprint of a cancer will allow precise and optimal treatment for individual patients, maximising the efficacy of the treatment and minimising damaging side effects. Genetic fingerprinting of cancers is also revealing many new potential targets for anti-cancer drugs, allowing scientists to increase the repertoire of drugs that precisely target specific cancers. However, one of the bottlenecks in creating and using cancer genetic fingerprints is in interpreting the mass of data generated from the analysis of each cancer specimen.
A new scientific discipline, called bioinformatics, has evolved to deal with the analysis of such data. Because the gene technologies are so new, and the field of bioinformatics is so new, many scientists and clinicians are not familiar with this area of science and so need to collaborate with specialist bioinformaticians, who are in short supply.
The Cancer Council SA Beat Cancer Project has been contributing to providing a specialist bioinformatician based at the CCB Australian Cancer Research Foundation Cancer Genomics Facility who is available to collaborate with scientists and clinicians on their cancer genomics research. This has led to numerous discoveries in breast cancer, colorectal cancer, oesophageal cancer and leukaemia, which have been published in major scientific journals and are prompting further research towards improved treatment and new drugs for these cancers.
What we aim to achieve
The major cause of death from cancers such as breast and colon cancer, is metastasis, which is the spread of cancer to secondary sites in the body, such as the lungs, brain and bones. Our work is especially focussed on identifying genetic pathways that allow cancer cells to invade and metastasise, with the ultimate aim of producing new drugs that block these processes and so prevent the spread of metastatic disease.
Our next steps and milestones
We continue to build on the discoveries that we have made, deepening our understanding of the genetic networks that are switching normal cells into malignant cancers. Each new discovery of a component of the network provides a new opportunity for therapeutic intervention. We will use this knowledge to identify the soft spots in the cancer for targeting with new drugs.
What motivates me
I became a scientist because I am driven to know how things work. I investigate cancer because I am convinced that with sufficient understanding of each cancer, we can provide a precisely targeted combination of therapeutics that will destroy that particular cancer, thereby providing health to patients with that cancer not only in our own time, but to all future generations. What could be more satisfying than that?
My message to supporters
Cutting edge research using the latest genetic technologies cannot be done without the support of bioinformatic specialists. This funding from Cancer Council SA donors helps provide that essential specialist knowledge that allows us to fully understand and exploit the data we generate, leading to new discoveries and opportunities for finding ways to block each of the many different subtypes of cancer.