Media Release: 26 March 2009
Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, The Hon. Nicola Roxon MP, announced today that Australia would make a substantial contribution to the International Cancer Genome Consortium by tackling pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers and fourth most common cause of cancer death.
The consortium brings together the world's leading scientists, through 11 funding organizations in 8 countries, and aims to catalogue the genetic changes of the 50 most common cancer types.
The Australian team will be led by Professor Sean Grimmond from the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience in Brisbane and Professor Andrew Biankin from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney. It will also involve collaborative contributions from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the University of California, San Francisco.
Professor Biankin, also a surgeon at Sydney's Bankstown Hospital, has treated hundreds of patients with pancreatic cancer. "It's a very aggressive cancer, killing around 90% of people within a year of diagnosis," he said. "Unlike the other common cancers, survival rates have not improved in over 30 years."
"Now that the technology and knowledge exists to process vast amounts of data quickly, it will allow us to uncover many of the triggers and genetic mechanisms underlying the disease, and therefore improve treatment."
The project is being funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NH&MRC), and at $27.5 million it is the largest single grant the NH&MRC has ever awarded. Further support will be provided by The Cancer Council NSW, the Queensland Government, the Garvan Institute and the University of Queensland. Applied Biosystems Inc. and Silicon Graphics, large international companies specialising in gene expression array analysis and high performance computing systems respectively, are also making significant contributions.
Professor Rob Sutherland, Director of Garvan's Cancer Research Program, as well as Inaugural Director of the planned Garvan St. Vincent's Campus Cancer Centre, acknowledges the great potential for discovery. "We are thrilled to be part of an international team that is throwing its spotlight and resources on this particular cancer," he said.
"A decade ago, it took years to sequence one person's DNA, so we could only dream about identifying the detailed gene mutations that lead to the initiation and progression of different cancers. Today it's possible to sequence 500 hundred individual cases of 50 types of cancer in 5 years."
"While no-one is under the illusion that we'll cure all cancers within the next 5 years, this exciting international collaboration will greatly accelerate progress."
"Some cancers may be cured, some will be targeted more effectively, others will be progressively demystified. Medical research is a long-term process of discovery."