Your dollars at work: The impact of the funds you have raised
Peter Mac is helping to improve our understanding of how cancers work and why they develop, to find better ways to target them and treat patients. Your participation in The Ride to Conquer Cancer will help to ensure the sustainability of this groundbreaking work.
Money raised through your participation in The Ride will help impact the lives of hundreds of thousands, as Peter Mac shares the outcomes of its work and its expertise with its patients as well as with healthcare organisations and research institutes across Australia, and around the world.
Here are a handful of examples of critical research, made possible through the generosity of Peter Mac supporters. Your support will help drive breakthroughs such as these.
Better research at work:
With the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, it makes sense for Australia to have a focus on finding better treatments for malignant melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, and takes the lives of around 48,000 people each year world-wide. One in 18 Australians will develop a melanoma in their lifetime.
Following the discovery of BRAF, a rogue gene mutation that is responsible for melanoma occurring in about 50 per cent of patients, Peter Mac led the Australian arm of the global Phase 1 trial into a new, highly selective drug called PLX4032. This drug targets and destroys BRAF, thereby preventing melanoma from spreading. Results for patients taking part in the clinical trial have been striking.
Eighty-one percent of melanoma patients (with the BRAF mutation) on the trial showed a significant reduction of their tumours. These results led the New England Journal of Medicine to dub the trial the ‘poster child for personalised cancer medicine’. The Phase 1 trial has now been extended to consolidate early findings with equally promising results. The trial is the tip of the iceberg for the future of cancer therapeutics and demonstrates the new frontier of tailoring drugs to the genetic profile of cancer.
Six to seven per cent of other cancers contain a BRAF mutation, which means this ‘smart drug’ could have implications for other cancers, too.
‘This is the beginning of a new era in the way we’re treating cancer - understanding what goes wrong in the cancer cell, what genes are changed and actively turning off genes that are malfunctioning will help us achieve better outcomes and better survival rates for people with cancer. ’ Associate Professor Grant McArthur
Better treatment at work:
Peter Mac has established the first academic robotic cancer surgery program in Victoria’s public health system.
The da Vinci Surgical System© is an advanced surgical platform which allows surgeons to perform complex tasks inside the body through tiny incisions by using a 3D magnified viewing system and advanced robotic instruments.
The system, which costs $3 million per machine, is a laparoscopic surgical robot that helps provide surgeons with added precision, additional control and visualisation.
Surgeons operate at the site of the problem, rather than at the end of laparoscopic instruments, through several small incisions about the size of a 10 cent piece. This allows much more complex surgery to be performed while enabling patients the benefit of tiny scars, reduced blood loss, shorter hospital stay, less risk of infection and faster recovery, when compared to open surgery or conventional laparoscopic (‘keyhole’) surgery. The average length of hospital stay after open surgery radical prostatectomy is 5-7 days, whereas 90 per cent of patients are discharged the day after a robotic-assisted procedure.
The Academic Robotic Cancer Surgery Program at Peter Mac also aims to offer training and research opportunities to other health professionals in this field, and to develop a model that can be replicated across the wider public health system.
‘Robotic-assisted surgery holds great promise for the future treatment of many cancer patients and the burden of cancer costs on the health economy.’ Associate Professor Declan Murphy.
Better care at work:
We’re constantly looking for innovative ways to make life easier for our patients. One very new project underway is the development of a mobile phone application that will prompt patients with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML), to take their medication, remotely monitor their adherence to medication, enable them to report side-effects and access counselling from a trained nurse wherever they are.
The need for this application arose because of the particularly unpleasant side-effects one particular drug Imatinib has for CML patients, which can result in reluctance to adhering to the prescribed daily dose. Imatinib reduces the risk of CML developing into a fatal phase called a “blast phase”. Not taking this medication can compromise a patient’s survival.
Our supportive care research team has worked with a number of universities to develop the software which will soon be trialled with some of our patients. This pioneering idea utilising new technology is just one of many ways Peter Mac aspires to ensure the well- being of its patients is continually advancing.
The best people at work:
One of the big questions facing patients newly diagnosed with cancer is whether their disease has spread to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads by metastasis, the process where cancer cells circulate into the bloodstream and lymphatic system, then grow in normal tissues elsewhere. Once cancer spreads, it can be particularly difficult to treat - and metastatic disease is the most common cause of death from cancer.
We now know that one of the key factors in the spread of cancer is that tumours develop their own blood supply and lymphatic vessels. This process, called tumour angiogenesis, is critical for cancerous tumours to grow and spread.
It results in a network of blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to the tumour cells and lymphatic vessels. This knowledge has led to the concept that being able to interfere with the process of angiogenesis - by using certain drugs to inhibit particular molecules that fuel tumour blood supplies, may be able to stop tumour growth.
Peter Mac was excited to welcome two world-leading researchers in the field of angiogenesis to set up a new program in its Cancer Research Division. Associate professors’ Steven Stacker and Marc Achen and their team joined the organisation to develop their work alongside Peter Mac researchers and clinicians. Their move to Peter Mac was supported by an insightful philanthropic gift which was used to acquire vital equipment needed to develop the new laboratory space.
Associate professors’ Stacker and Achen’s focus is to understand and map the growth factors secreted by tumour cells and the receptors on blood and lymphatic vessels, particularly those that facilitate cancer spread through the lymphatic system. Their long-term goal is to trial novel drugs that may inhibit angiogenesis safely and effectively.
‘Our move to Peter Mac has created great opportunities to combine our basic research program in tumour angiogenesis with the work of other researchers and clinicians in cancer biology. In the future we hope this will lead to advances in how we diagnose and treat many types of cancer.’ Associate Professor Steven Stacker