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New personalized treatment options for cancer

A new cancer research centre established at the University of Adelaide will focus on treatment options tailored to the individual, taking into account DNA and genetic variations between people.

The Centre for Personalised Cancer Medicine brings together a team of world-leading researchers with strengths in blood cancers and solid tumours, particularly breast, lung, sarcomas and melanoma.

Headed by Professor David Callen, the team will use tumour profiling and animal and cellular models to develop new drugs that target particular molecular changes in individual cancer patients.

"This centre reflects the trend towards a new, individualised approach to cancer medicine, taking into account genetic variations between people and their reaction to specific drugs," Professor Callen says.

"We will focus on improving the outcomes for cancer patients at all levels, from prevention through to treatment, survival, rehabilitation and palliative care, exploring novel and innovative approaches to cancer research.

"The big thrust at the moment is DNA sequencing. While it is still in the developmental stage, there are enormous resources being poured into this overseas and it looks like we will follow this lead in Australia."

The centre is already making headway in some areas, particularly in the treatment of sarcomas − rare malignant tumours which disproportionately affect young people and have a high mortality rate.

Dr Paul Neilsen, who oversees the Sarcoma Research Group, is collaborating with Royal Adelaide Hospital surgeon A/Prof Susan Neuhaus to trial new drugs on individual patient's tumours in a laboratory setting. "Currently these patients are treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy but their outcomes are very poor and have not improved in the past decade," Dr Neilsen says.

"We have identified weak points in these tumours and are targeting them with new agents. The next step is to support pre-clinical trials in Australia."

Dr Neilsen lost his 18-year-old brother to Ewing's Sarcoma a malignant bone tumour which occurs most frequently in male teenagers and has a mortality rate of 40%, but increases to 90% for metastatic or recurrent disease.

Adelaide man John Marshall was a lot older 41 years of age when he was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in July 2010, undergoing surgery to remove the tumour, along with 12 months of chemotherapy.

"The diagnosis floored me. I was a fit, happy, healthy guy who had never smoked, ate a healthy diet and worked out regularly. How could this happen to me?"

While Mr Marshall has been given the all clear following his treatment, he is keen to support sarcoma research being undertaken at the Centre for Cancer Personalised Medicine and the Royal Adelaide Hospital. He is planning a sponsored cycle ride through the French Alps in September 2102.

Contact: Professor David Callen
University of Adelaide

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