Hunter cancer research projects gain $1.65m funding boost

Thursday, 9 June 2016


University of Newcastle/HMRI researchers have received almost $1.65 million to support four ground-breaking cancer projects, as part of a $39 million funding package announced by the NSW Government this week.

Two Early Career Fellowships totalling $450,000 and $592,000 were awarded to Dr Gillian Gould and Dr Flora Tzelepis respectively, both of whom are conducting smoking cessation projects.

A further two $300,000 research infrastructure grants went to Professor John Forbes for the Hunter Cancer Biobank and medical geneticist Professor Rodney Scott for advanced cell analysis.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the grants – funded through the Cancer Institute NSW – were vital to ensuring the State attracts and retains the best and brightest cancer researchers.

Dr Gould is leading the Indigenous Counselling and Nicotine (ICAN) QUIT in Pregnancy Trial aimed at improving strategies for the management of smoking cessation in pregnant Aboriginal women in NSW.

Currently, tobacco smoking among NSW Aboriginal pregnant women occurs at six times the rate of their non-Aboriginal counterparts (48% versus 8%). Smoking is also the leading cause of lung cancer for Aboriginal women, with twice the risk of non-Aboriginal women.

“Helping women quit smoking in pregnancy can protect them from life-long cancer risks, reduce the risks of childhood cancers in offspring, as well as preventing low birth weight, pregnancy complications, and other chronic diseases in offspring such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes,” Dr Gould said.

“This research aims to improve the management of smoking for this group by implementing state-of-the-art smoking cessation guidelines and supporting health professionals to provide excellent smoking cessation care.”

In a trial funded by the Fellowship, clinicians at Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services trained in culturally-appropriate guidelines will be compared to clinicians using their standard approaches.

Dr Tzelepis is running the first study to examine the effectiveness of real-time video counselling delivered via Skype or Face Time to smokers in their homes in regional and
remote areas. She will compare the results with those using Quitline telephone counselling or written materials.

“Video counselling may strengthen the rapport between the advisor and smoker, and for smokers who live in regional and remote areas it eliminates the need to travel long distances to access face-to-face support,” Dr Tzelepis said. “If found to be effective, national and international Quitlines could adopt video counselling as part of their routine services.”

New laboratory technology known as Single Cell Analysis, which measures the characteristics of individual cells in a tumour, is the cornerstone of Professor Scott’s infrastructure grant.

“Only some cancer cells are capable of spreading while others can resist treatment and give rise to aggressive relapses,” Professor Scott said. “It’s this tumour heterogeneity that makes prognosis and treatment of cancer so unpredictable, but until now our research techniques have lacked the resolution to measure single cells.”

Professor Forbes, meanwhile, will be maximising the research value of the Hunter Cancer Biobank (HCB) through detailed characterisation of tumour bio specimens linked to clinical outcomes. The Biobank currently contains over 12,000 tissue specimens donated by more than 4,500 patients. The primary aim of this grant is to increase the use of these tumour biospecimens in translational and clinical research.

Chief Cancer Officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW, Professor David Currow, said: “As our population ages, the number of people with cancer is increasing. In five years’ time more than 53,000 people in NSW will be told 'you have cancer’.

“The Cancer Institute NSW is proud to fund this research as we know it is the foundation for better cancer treatments and will ultimately take us closer to our vision of ending cancers as we know them.”

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