Garvan led team wins prestigious prostate cancer award

An international team, led by Professor Peter Croucher from Garvan, today received one of two 2014 Movember Revolutionary Team Awards from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA).

Professor Peter Croucher

Media Release: 13 March 2014

An international team1, led by Professor Peter Croucher from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, today received one of two 2014 Movember Revolutionary Team Awards from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA).

The Movember Foundation, which funds the Team Awards, is providing a total of $7.25 million for the investigation of advanced prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, causing 3,300 deaths in Australia each year, and 250,000 deaths worldwide.

The purpose of the awards is to accelerate prostate cancer research by encouraging multinational, cross-disciplinary, collaboration.

Garvan already has a strong reputation in prostate cancer research and, in partnership with a number of hospitals, has established a national Prostate Cancer Research Centre2.

The Garvan-led team will be investigating the spread of prostate cancer cells to the skeleton, one of the most devastating consequences of advanced prostate cancer.

When cancer cells spread to bone, they can remain inactive for a very long time, months or even many years. The Garvan team hopes to understand the conditions within the bone microenvironment that trigger activation, and to find ways of delaying or preventing activation.

“Once a cancer spreads to bone, it becomes notoriously difficult to treat, so it’s important for us to establish the exact course of critical molecular events between a cell’s arrival and its activation,” said Professor Croucher.

“The difficulty we have faced until now has been actually finding the cancer cells before they become active, because there tend to be so few, and they can lodge almost anywhere in the skeleton.”

“We now have tools that allow us to find dormant cells in an experimental model system, and we’re applying that technology to prostate cancer.”

“We have three big questions. Where do the cancer cells go? What is their genetic make-up when dormant and when active? How do they get activated – by specific properties from within the cell or by changes to the bone environment in which they reside?”

The skeleton is a dynamic organ that is constantly renewing itself. Bone cells known as ‘osteoblasts’ help build new bone, while those known as ‘osteoclasts’ break down bone.

Professor Croucher’s team believes that something changes within the bone microenvironment to activate the dormant cancer cells. That change may be driven by a cancer cell’s interaction with bone-destroying osteoclasts, or its interaction with immune cells.

The team will track the effects of bone-active drugs, such as bisphosphonates or the antibody denosumab, which prevent osteoclasts from depleting bone. They believe that blocking the action of osteoclasts might stop cancer cells from being activated.

“The most pertinent question,” said Croucher, “is whether bone-active drugs can retain cells in a dormant state indefinitely, or for a long period of time, to stop them being activated and forming tumours.”



The international group is comprised of four teams based in Sydney at Garvan; two teams based in Melbourne, one from the University of Melbourne and one from LaTrobe University; one team from New York’s Weill Medical College at Cornell University; and a series of collaborators from around the world including colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute in San Diego and the University of California, San Diego in the US and the Universities  of Oxford and Sheffield in the UK. A summary of team member expertise follows:


Professor Peter Croucher
Professor Croucher’s principal research interest is understanding how tumours grow in bone and cause bone disease. His work has been underpinned by ‘state of the art’ imaging technology, including two-photon intra-vital imaging, three-dimensional bioluminescence imaging and ex vivo and in vivo micro-CT imaging. He will apply his techniques to visualizing and studying dormant prostate cancer cells and their activation in this project.

Dr Alex Swarbrick
Dr Swarbrick heads the Tumour Progression lab at Garvan and is interested in the factors that drive a tumour to evolve and metastasise. He will profile the genes that are ‘transcribed’, or expressed, in dormant cancer cells.

Professor Vanessa Hayes
Professor Hayes assumed the inaugural University of Sydney Petre Foundation Chair of Prostate Cancer Research at the Garvan Institute in January 2014. She also heads the Laboratory for Human Comparative and Prostate Cancer Genomics at Garvan, and has specialised in researching the inherited and acquired genetic events that cause prostate cancer. She will analyse the genomic history of the development of bone metastasis in tumour samples from individuals with prostate cancer metastasis.

Professor Mike Rogers
Professor Rogers heads Garvan’s Bone Therapeutics Lab. His work is focused on the interactions that occur between bone cells, immune cells and tumour cells. Previous studies from the Rogers lab identified the molecular actions of bisphosphonate drugs, "blockbuster" agents used to inhibit bone destruction in patients with bone metastases. Professor Rogers will use bisphosphonates to regulate the release of cancer cells from dormancy.


Professor Tony Costello
Urological surgeon, Professor Tony Costello, heads one of the few groups globally that has been able to collect fresh bone metastasis from men with prostate cancer, as well as samples of primary tumour. He will be sequencing the genome of bone metastasis from patients with prostate cancer

Dr Niall Corcoran
Dr Corcoran heads a laboratory dedicated to basic and translational research to improve outcomes for prostate cancer. He will lead a group to develop a strategy for translating the findings from the project into the clinic.


Dr Belinda Parker
Dr Parker’s lab focuses on determining the mechanisms of tumour cell spread to distant tissues and organs. She will apply her understanding of how the immune system regulates bone metastasis in breast cancer to prostate cancer.


Dr Himisha Beltran
An Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cornell, Dr Beltran will sequence bone metastases in order to validate drug targets.


Last year, Garvan and its collaborative partners (St. Vincent’s Hospital,  Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, The Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and Royal North Shore Hospital) received Federal funding of $5.5 million over 4 years to establish the Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre - NSW, based in The Kinghorn Cancer Centre.

Over many years, The St Vincent's Campus Prostate Cancer Group, run jointly by Garvan and St. Vincent’s, pioneered new diagnostic techniques, introduced new biomarkers for early and advanced prostate cancer, and introduced the study of quality of life outcomes. Genomic research, which will take place in the new centre, is a strong and welcome addition to an already-potent arsenal of tools.

The group developed the largest tissue bank and database in the southern hemisphere, now housed at The Kinghorn Cancer Centre. It stores the information from over 12,000 men, including tumour and blood samples. This will continue to aid all researchers, as well as foster existing strong collaborations, both national and international.

The new injection of Federal funds will ensure that Garvan and its partners can continue to translate basic molecular biology discoveries to advance individualised prostate cancer patient care.

Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia is a broad-based community organisation and the peak national body for prostate cancer in Australia.  PCFA is dedicated to reducing the impact of prostate cancer on Australian men, their partners, families and the wider community.

PCFA does this by: Promoting and funding world leading, innovative research into prostate cancer; Implementing awareness campaigns and education programs for the Australian Community, health professionals and Government; and supporting men and their families affected by prostate cancer through evidence-based information and resources, support groups and Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurses

PCFA receives government funding for specific projects and relies on the generosity of individuals, the community and important partnerships with corporate Australia, such as the Movember Foundation and Commonwealth Bank, to carry out its essential work.

For further information about prostate cancer or PCFA, visit  or free call 1800 22 00 99

During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of millions of moustaches around the world. With their “Mo’s” men raise vital funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer and mental health. As an independent global charity, Movember’s vision is to have an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health. 

Since its humble beginnings in 2003 in Melbourne, Australia, when 30 Mo Bros first grew moustaches, Movember has grown to become a truly global movement inspiring more than 4 million Mo Bros and Mo Sistas to participate across 21 countries worldwide. Movember is also aware of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas supporting the campaign and men’s health causes from across the globe, from Moscow to Rio de Janeiro, and everywhere in between. Together these selfless Mo Bros and Mo Sistas have raised over $500 million, which is funding 700 projects aimed at achieving Movember's vision of having an everlasting impact on the face men's health.

 Significant steps have been taken toward achieving the vision, but there is still always more to be done. To see the impact Movember is making now please visit

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