Our treatment resistance research

Garvan researchers collaborate with each other as well as with labs around the world to combat treatment resistance in cancer. We're examining how resistance develops at cellular and genetic levels in a broad sense, as well as in specific types of cancer.

Treatment resistance leads to a poorer prognosis and disease relapse. We're looking at novel treatments to overcome this hurdle as well as possible ways to reverse the cellular changes that result in resistance — to re-sensitise the disease to treatment.

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Key areas of investigation

Dr Arcadi Cipponi
Dr Arcadi Cipponi

Treatment resistance development in cancer

Prof David Thomas and Dr Arcadi Cipponi (right) of the Genomic Cancer Medicine Lab led a team to research the underlying mechanisms that allow cancer cells to adapt to treatments and become resistant. They wondered if cancer cells developed resistance in a similar way to antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacteria undergo stress-induced mutagenesis, which is where bacteria acquire new genetic mutations in order to adapt and survive.

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A/Prof Paul Timpson
A/Prof Paul Timpson

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers with an average survival rate of 6 months. One of the reasons for this is its high rate of resistance to treatment.

A common characteristic in pancreatic cancer is the presence of a constantly moving low-oxygen region, called a hypoxic region, within the tumour. These hypoxic regions allow the cancer cells to be more aggressive and resistant to many different forms of treatment. A/Prof Paul Timpson and his team were able to use intravital microscopy to visualise these hypoxic regions in real time.

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A/Prof Marina Pajic 
A/Prof Marina Pajic 

Breast cancer

Several Garvan research groups study treatment resistance in breast cancer.

A/Prof Marina Pajic has studied breast cancer resistance to radiotherapy. Micro-ribonucleic acid (miRNA) is a small piece of genetic material that can regulate parts of the DNA. A/Prof Pajic and collaborators were able to show that a particular miRNA, miR-139-5p, was able to re-sensitise a breast cancer tumour to radiotherapy. They were also able to use miR-139-5p to determine which tumours would be more likely to be resistant to radiotherapy. This shows promise in being able to first predict the likelihood of radiotherapy resistance and also being a targeting treatment.

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Lung cancer

Lung cancer is generally treated using platinum-based chemotherapy. Unfortunately, less than 30% of lung cancer patients benefit from it; many experience serious side effects or are resistant.

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Prof Lisa Horvath
Prof Lisa Horvath

Prostate cancer

The Clinical Prostate Cancer Research Group led by Prof Lisa Horvath focuses on prognostic markers for prostate cancer and resistance to chemotherapy. Docetaxel is a chemotherapy drug used in metastatic prostate cancer; however, it only benefits approximately 50% of the patients. The remaining patients who do respond to docetaxel ultimately develop resistance.

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National and international collaborations

  • ANZAC Research Institute, Sydney, Australia
  • Australian Pancreatic Genome Initiative
  • Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre, Sydney, Australia
  • Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, Melbourne, Australia.
  • Azienda Socio Sanitaria Territoriale di Cremona, Cremona, Italy
  • Blacktown Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  • Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • CancerCare Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
  • Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
  • Chris O'Brien Lifehouse, Sydney, Australia
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, United States of America
  • Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Sydney, Australia
  • Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
  • Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia;
  • John Wayne Cancer Institute, Santa Monica, United States of America
  • Key Laboratory of Carcinogenesis and Translational Research, Beijing, China
  • Kolling Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia
  • La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
  • Lowy Cancer Research Centre, Sydney, Australia
  • Mater Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  • Melanoma Institute Australia, Sydney, Australia
  • Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne, Australia.
  • Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
  • Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Peking University Cancer Hospital and Institute, Beijing, China
  • Peninsula Health, Frankston, Australia
  • Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, Australia
  • Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  • Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia.
  • South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, Australia
  • St George Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  • St Vincent’s Clinical School, Sydney, Australia
  • St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  • St Vincent's Centre for Applied Medical Research, Sydney, Australia
  • UNICANCER, Paris, France
  • Université Claude Bernard Lyon, Lyon, France
  • University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  • University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia
  • University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, United States of America
  • University of California, San Diego, United States of America
  • University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
  • University of Illinois, Urbana, United States of America
  • University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada
  • University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.
  • University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  • University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
  • University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
  • University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy
  • University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.
  • VIB-KU Leuven and Center for the Biology of Disease, Leuven, Belgium
  • Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Sydney, Australia
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia
  • Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Australia