Pancreatic cancer and brain cancer research projects supported by St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation grants

A new study repurposing an antifungal drug for pancreatic cancer is one of two projects to be boosted by St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation funding.

The pancreatic cancer tumour micro-environment. Credit: Garvan / Kate Patterson

25 January 2023

Two researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research will have their cancer projects funded by grants from the St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation in 2023.

Antifungal drug to be tested for use in pancreatic cancer treatment

Dr Sean Porazinski, Group Leader at Garvan, has been awarded a De Angeli Cancer Research Grant to investigate repurposing an existing antifungal drug to improve pancreatic cancer patients’ response to chemotherapy.

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of all cancer-related deaths in Australia, with few effective treatment options for patients. During its development, abnormal cells in the pancreas grow out of control to form aggressive tumours which spread quickly around the body.

The project team, led by Associate Professor Marina Pajic, has found that the drug – already used worldwide to treat a broad list of fungal infections – is also effective in improving response in animal models of pancreatic cancer when given in combination with the latest standard of chemotherapy.

The researchers found that when the antifungal drug is applied to these pancreatic cancer models, it changes the tumour’s micro-environment in a variety of ways. The overall effect is to block disease progression and halt processes that promote the spread of tumour cells, reducing metastasis of the disease.

Over the next three years, Dr Porazinski and the team will test the findings in more animal models, using a combination of cutting-edge imaging and single-cell RNA sequencing to understand which signalling pathways the drug affects in cancer cells and cells of the tumour micro-environment. They will also conduct studies to identify biomarkers that predict whether someone will respond to the treatment.

If results are promising, the study will pave the way for clinical trials in the next few years, with the goal of developing personalised antifungal-based therapies to maximise clinical benefit.

“We are hoping that by giving combination treatments to the right patient at the right time, we can minimise side effects, improve survival rates and bolster quality of life for those patients suitable for the treatment,” says Dr Porazinski.

Exploring the role of male hormone blockers in aggressive brain cancer

St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation has awarded a Tancred Research Grant to another Garvan researcher, Dr Sofia Mason, to study the role androgen hormone blockers could play in treatment of an aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma has a short average survival time after diagnosis, even after optimal surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Previous research has shown that the aggressive cells within a glioblastoma tumour may rely on androgens (male hormones) in about two-thirds of patients. Medications that block androgen receptors are commonly used in the treatment of other cancers, and are generally safe and well tolerated.

Dr Mason’s team, led by Associate Professor Christine Chaffer, will test the hormone-blocker medications in combination with standard treatment in animal studies.

The goal of this research is to directly inform future clinical trials of a treatment approach combining anti-androgens and chemotherapy or radiotherapy for glioblastoma patients.

 

Dr Sean Porazinski is a Conjoint Lecturer at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health.

Associate Professor Marina Pajic is Co-Head of the Precision Cancer Medicine Program, Head of the Personalised Cancer Therapeutics Lab at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and a Conjoint Associate Professor at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health.

Dr Sofia Mason is a medical oncologist and PhD candidate at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Associate Professor Christine Chaffer is Co-Head of the Precision Cancer Medicine Program, Head of the Cancer Cell Plasticity Lab at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and a Conjoint Associate Professor at St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Medicine and Health.

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