Our research highlights of 2018/2019

18 December 2019 | Cancer Council NSW

Cancer Council is proud of our footprint in cancer research. We are committed to conducting and funding research that improves outcomes across the entire cancer journey. We fund more cancer research than any other non-government organisation in Australia. In the past five years alone, Cancer Council NSW has invested $83.6 million into essential cancer research. The community plays a pivotal role in selecting which projects we fund.

Before we invest in a new research project, it is reviewed by both scientific experts and our panel of cancer survivors and carers, who help make sure we fund research that is of most benefit to the cancer community, while meeting the highest scientific standards. We support the best ideas and the best people in cancer research by funding research teams across NSW who are making significant breakthroughs in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. We work hard to maximise the impact and value of our research.

Our in-house research team is focused on our long-term program called Pathways to a cancer free future. This world leading research strategy aims to identify where the greatest impact can be made in reducing the burden of cancer, ultimately saving more lives. A snapshot of our research achievements in 2018/19 is included in this brochure. It is thanks to generous support from the community that we’re able to conduct and fund this ground-breaking research.

Highlights from our research team

Estimating the impact of tobacco control

Cancer Council NSW researchers have estimated the number of past and future lung cancer deaths that have already been averted by tobacco control initiatives in Australia, and the number of additional deaths that could be averted under various smoking scenarios. They found that 100,000 lung cancer deaths could be avoided this century if smoking rates reduced to 10% by 2025.

Calculating the cost of cancer

Our research has revealed the cost of cancer to the Australian health system to be over $6 billion in 2013, providing important data for planning future healthcare funding. The largest costs are associated with bowel cancer ($1.1 billion), breast cancer ($0.8 billion), lung cancer ($0.6 billion) and prostate cancer ($0.5 billion).

Studying bowel cancer trends

Our researchers and collaborators have found that the incidence of bowel cancer in Australia increased in Australians under the age of 50. Further research by the team showed that, based on current evidence, screening people aged 50-74 is still the best public health approach to reduce the impact of bowel cancer.

Highlighting the impact of prostate cancer

Our researchers have studied the rates of suicide among prostate cancer survivors over a period of ten years. By comparing the number of suicides observed for prostate cancer survivors with the expected number of suicides for the NSW male population, they found men who had prostate cancer were at a 70% increased risk of suicide.

Eliminating cervical cancer

Recognising the enormous potential to reduce and prevent suffering from cervical cancer, the World Health Organization has called for coordinated action to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue globally. Our researchers have shown that if HPV vaccination and screening coverage are maintained at their current rates, cervical cancer is likely to be eliminated as a public health issue in Australia by 2035. Our research team has been working with international research organisations to provide crucial evidence to support prevention strategies around the world. In a study published in early 2019, they found that if HPV vaccination and HPV-based screening are scaled up rapidly in developing countries, up to 13.4 million cervical cancer cases could potentially be prevented worldwide by 2069.

Highlights from our funded researchers

Preventing relapse from acute myeloid leukaemia

A team at the Children’s Cancer Institute has discovered a novel pathway that could be exploited to block the growth of acute myeloid leukaemia cells. The team developed a new treatment approach that targets this pathway which has shown promising signs of having anti-cancer powers.

Finding vital treatments for multiple myeloma

A team of researchers at The University of Sydney has developed myeloma-specific immune cells designed specifically to recognise and destroy myeloma cells. In the lab, the team created a series of these genetically reprogrammed immune cells and in testing the cells have shown significant anti-myeloma capabilities.

Using nanomedicine to target pancreatic cancer

UNSW Sydney researchers have developed a promising new treatment for aggressive pancreatic cancer by combining existing chemotherapy drugs with a cutting-edge nanomedicine-gene therapy (tiny drug delivery vehicles) designed to target the pancreatic stellate cells that help tumours grow and spread.

Targeting the cancer survival process

Researchers at the Children’s Medical Research Institute have been studying the way some of the most aggressive cancers cheat cell death – a process called ‘alternative lengthening of telomeres’ or ALT. The team has identified a protein that is essential to the ALT process. By disrupting the function of this protein, they found they could put the cancer under so much stress that it stopped proliferating.

Preventing cancer in people with immune deficiencies

Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have been investigating the possibility of boosting the immune system of people with X-linked lymphoproliferative disease to build their defenses against the Epstein-Barr virus and prevent the development of cancer.