Debunking myths about cancer

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

University of Newcastle researchers are debunking myths as they pave the way forward in cancer research.

A world free of breast cancer

Named one of the hottest Top 10 researchers in the world by Thomson Scientific, Professor John Forbes AM has dedicated his life to reducing breast cancer mortality rates and improving the quality of life for women with the disease.

Among his world-leading achievements, Professor Forbes:

  • Established that the breast cancer drug Anastrozole can reduce the chances of breast cancer in postmenopausal women by 53 per cent (findings published in the Lancet December 2013).
  • Established that the breast cancer drug tamoxifen can be used for more than just successfully treating breast cancer – it can also be used in prevention of the disease

Read more about Professor Forbes breakthrough breast cancer research.

Genetic testing for hereditary cancer

At the forefront of the emerging field of developing patient-tailored treatments based on genetic analysis are Geneticist Professor Rodney Scott and computer scientist Professor Pablo Moscato.  

Uniting the twin disciplines of mathematics and medicine, this duo act aim to develop the technology to quickly analyse patient data and tailor treatment to the individual.

Their major research achievements include:

  • Detailed analysis of data over a number of years by his team has led to the identification of what they believe to be the 'genetic signature' of two new subtypes of breast cancer.
  • A method to track the progression of cancer and Alzheimer's Disease in the brain.

Read more about how mathematics and computers will change the 'one drug fits all' approach to cancer treatment.

Unlocking melanoma's resistance to chemotherapy 

Dr Nicola Bowden has provided a possible explanation for why melanoma is largely resistant to chemotherapy. Her breakthrough work is shifting perceptions in the medical world by creating an understanding that melanomas are not like other forms of cancer.

"Chemotherapy usually works by attacking the DNA of a cancer cell and damaging it so badly that it dies," Bowden explains. "Normally, the DNA repair pathway in a cell will either fix damage, as it does when we get sunburnt, or 'tell' a cell to die when the damage is extreme. But in melanoma this pathway is dysfunctional, so chemotherapy has little or no effect and the cancerous cells continue to accumulate damage and grow."

Read more on Dr Bowden's pioneering research and her aim for a melanoma free future

Potentially the most significant drug this decade for melanoma treatment

Associate Professor Darren Shafren has demonstrated the effectiveness of a common cold virus (Coxsackievirus A21) as a potential treatment to kill cancer cells.

A cancer treatment drug developed by his team, known as CAVATAK, is potentially among the most significant immunotherapy drugs developed over the past decade for the treatment of melanoma.

A Phase 2 trial is currently underway in the US with late-stage melanoma patients while a separate trial is assessing the multiple intravenous dosing of CAVATAK in patients with tumours including prostate, lung or metastatic bladder cancers.

Read more about Associate Professor Shafren's novel approach to melanoma treatment

Blocking the path of melanoma 

One of the world's most eminent researchers in skin cancer, Professor Xu Dong Zhang has discovered a molecular pathway that has the potential to save the lives of people diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

In 2013, Professor Zhang was the Chief Investigator for an international collaboration that unearthed a molecular pathway that plays an important role in the development of melanoma and its resistance to treatment.

Read more about Professor Zhang's leading work in Melanoma research 

The world's largest prostate cancer trials

Professor Jim Denham has a distinguished track record in clinical cancer research having successfully coordinated many trials in the pursuit of improved treatments for people with cancers such as oesophageal, head and neck, breast and prostate.

Professor Denham's current research in prostate cancer illustrates the real contribution he is making to cancer treatment world-wide. Jim is coordinating one of the world's largest prostate cancer trials which has shown that a hormone therapy given to men with localised but inoperable prostate cancer a few months before radiotherapy can help stop their cancer returning after treatment and reduce cancer deaths.

Read more on how Professor Denham is helping eradicate our most common cancers

Improving the quality of end-of-life care

Professor Sanson-Fisher is working on a number of ground-breaking research projects to change the mindset of dealing with illness and dying. 

His research is setting the global benchmark for clinical practice guidelines and training for doctors to help reduce the emotional impact of terminal illnesses on patients and their families.  This includes spearheading a research project that analyses international approaches and cultural differences to end-of-life care, a study identifying communication and perception gaps between doctors, patients and families, as well as developing an internet-based system that keeps patients, families and caregivers on the same page.

Find out more about this extraordinary researcher

New treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia

Dr Kathryn Skelding is an early career researcher with a focus on understanding cancer cell biology, specifically how cancer cells proliferate, metastasise, and develop resistance to chemotherapeutics.

If these processes can be better understood, new targeted anti-cancer therapies can be discovered. 

Read more about Dr Skelding and her up and coming research


  • Jessica Sullivan
  • Phone: +612 4985 4171

Related news

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.