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Improved cancer treatments the focus of $6 milion research project

Research into the natural process of cell death, its role in the development of blood cancers and harnessing cell death to improve cancer therapies has seen a Walter and Eliza Hall Institute research team from Melbourne, Australia, awarded a grant of more than $6 million by the US-based Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The grant of $1.25 million a year for five years was one of four awarded through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) program.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute team was the only team outside the United States awarded a SCOR program grant.

Professor Jerry Adams, director of the SCOR program and joint head of the Institute's Molecular Genetics of Cancer division, said the research team had been investigating apoptosis, the natural process of cell death, for more than two decades.

"Our bodies make billions of blood cells every day, and, to make room, billions of other blood cells must undergo apoptosis," Professor Adams said. "If some cells fail to die when they should, they can develop into leukaemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma. We are studying how impaired apoptosis contributes to the development of blood cell cancers and renders the malignant cells more resistant to current therapies."

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, institute researchers discovered that the Bcl-2 protein family promoted the development of blood cancers by preventing the death of cancerous cells and also helped cancer cells resist anti-cancer therapies. This put apoptosis centre stage in cancer research.

"Nearly all anti-cancer therapies act through the Bcl-2 apoptotic switch," Professor Adams said, "but they affect it indirectly. To improve cancer treatments we are investigating the effectiveness of new drugs, used either alone or in combination with other therapies, that directly engage the apoptotic machinery and flip the cell death switch. We have already identified some promising drug candidates and this new funding will allow us to further investigate their effectiveness and the usefulness of other new anti-cancer agents."

Contact: Ms. Penny Fannin
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

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