Latest Genomic Technology to Analyse Tumours in Perth

[L to R] The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Professor Alistair Forrest and Mr Tom Dery AO, ACRF Chair.
[L to R] The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Professor Alistair Forrest and Mr Tom Dery AO, ACRF Chair.

A $1.75M grant awarded by the Australian Cancer Research Fund (ACRF) will fund three pieces of equipment, including a high throughput next generation DNA sequencer and equipment to isolate single cells from a patient’s tumour.

The equipment will make it possible to analyse thousands of cells from hundreds of tumours and examine billions of genetic sequences to determine the genetic make-up of each tumour and provide new insights into how cancer cells evolve and interact with normal cells.

It will be housed at the world-class single-cell sequencing facility being led by The University of Western Australia’s Professor Forrest at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Nedlands.

Single cell analysis of cancer tumours, to see which genes are turned on and off in thousands of cells within a patient’s tumour, is the next wave in cancer research, providing hope to patients that researchers will be able to identify new drugs to combat cancer, better predict a tumour’s response to drugs and develop innovative ways to kill cancer cells.

A consortium of cancer researchers and clinicians across Perth led by Professor Alistair Forrest who heads up the Systems Biology and Genomics Laboratory at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research was recently awarded $3.75M from the Cancer Research Trust to build a comprehensive atlas of the cell types that make up cancer tumours.

“The new equipment funded by the ACRF will make it quicker and less costly to generate large amounts of sequence data, which means the tumours of more patients will be able to be analysed.

“The low survival rates for some cancers, such as mesothelioma, ovarian and pancreatic cancers, highlight the need for these new approaches to understand and target cancer better.

“This new equipment is essential to building an in depth atlas of the cell types in tumours.

“Using advanced single cell profiling technologies, we will survey the cell types, the genes turned on and off in each cell and mutations contained in each patient’s tumour.

“Studying tumours at the single cell level provides opportunities to identify novel biomarkers, predict response rates to drugs and provide a better understanding of cancer which ultimately will lead to new treatments,” Professor Forrest said.

“These technologies are the next wave of genomics and we have a once in a decade opportunity to establish them and remain at the leading edge,” he said.

The Australian Cancer Research Fund (ACRF) has awarded four grants across Australia to research it considers has the greatest potential to change treatment outcomes for all Australian cancer patients.

Australian Cancer Research Foundation Chief Executive, Professor Ian Brown said it was important to invest in technology that will help build in-depth knowledge of cancer cells and their environment.

“The new ACRF Centre for Advanced Cancer Genomics at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research will provide new insights into how cancer cells evolve and interact with normal cells, leading to new cancer treatments that will benefit all Australian cancer patients.”

“Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters from around Australia we are able to award high-impact grants, allowing Australia’s best scientists to embark on ground-breaking research projects.

“These cancer research initiatives are directed at all types of cancer and speed up discoveries, ultimately working to save lives by saving time,” says Professor Brown.

Chief investigators on the ACRF grant were: Prof Alistair Forrest, Prof Ryan Lister, and Prof Peter Leedman from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research; Assoc Prof Timo Lassmann, Prof Ursula Kees, and Professor Terrance Johns from Telethon Kids Institute, Prof Christobel Saunders, Prof Camile Farah, Prof Wendy Erber, Prof Bruce Robinson, Prof Anna Nowak, Adj Prof Richard Lake, Prof Michael Millward and Assoc Prof Benhur Amanuel from The University of Western Australia and Prof Mel Ziman from Edith Cowan University.

Recognising the importance of next generation sequencing in Perth, co-funding for the sequencer has also been provided by The University of Western Australia, Curtin, Murdoch, ECU, and CSIRO.

The grant presentation will be made by the Governor General at a ceremony at Government House in Victoria at 6pm EST on 29 November.