Urgent secondary cancer treatment research reality in Tasmania

Friday, 12 June 2020 - 3:25pm

Secondary or metastatic cancers are those that have spread to distant sites in the body. Although we know there are effective treatments for many types of cancer when and if they are caught early, unfortunately there is still a lack of effective therapies for cancers that have spread.

Sadly, secondary cancers are responsible for most deaths due to cancer. For several of the most common cancers (breast, prostate and lung cancer), a common site where cancer spreads is into the bone. Once tumours have spread to bone, there are sadly only limited effective treatment options and currently there are no curative treatments.

Under a newly funded Project Grant, Professor Jo Dickinson will lead an important study into secondary cancer, knowing that there is an urgent need to find new ways of treating these insidious cancers, knowing how vital this is for so many in our community.

“People living with metastatic cancers in the bone can face considerable challenges in managing their pain and it severely impacts, not only on their mobility, but their overall quality of life.

“The origins of this research project lie in talking with Tasmanian community members who, after being diagnosed with a cancer that had spread, told stories of feeling “forgotten”, or feeling that “hope and support seemed to evaporate” once their disease had progressed.”

Prof Dickinson knows this study resonates with many members of our community who have lost loved ones to secondary cancers, including generous supporters such as Handmark Hobart Director Allanah Dopson. In October 2019, upon hearing about this study, Allanah immediately decided that she would draw deeply upon her own family’s experience of cancer. After providing extensive support to the RHH Research Foundation over several years, Allanah set herself the target of garnering further support which enabled her to fully fund this vital $25k research initiative. And this support means so much to Prof Dickinson and her team.

“When talking with members of the community in Tasmania, I am always struck by the incredible generosity of those, like Allanah, who want to make a difference to help others by contributing to the effort to find more effective treatments for secondary cancers,” she said.

This local research project combines two exciting new technologies. Using gene-editing tools, the team will use the latest in advanced technology to examine the tissue from tumours when they are localised, comparing this with tissue from tumours that have spread to the bone from the same patient. This is a surprisingly powerful approach designed to find the specific molecules that are driving the spread of tumour to the bone.

This study, titled “Gaining new insights into metastatic bone tumours”, is guided by a large team that includes early career and more experienced researchers, together with oncologists and pathologists who will all bring different skills to the project. Prof Dickinson said she and her experienced colleagues have been extremely excited to work with the team’s newest member, Ms Kelsie Raspin.

“Kelsie is from the East Coast of Tasmania, she did her undergraduate degree at the University of Tasmania, before undertaking an Honour’s degree and just recently completed her PhD with our team.

“With the support of the RHHRF we have been able to employ her to take on this research project. The ability to offer our young talented Tasmanian-trained researchers exciting new opportunities to establish their careers in Tasmania and apply cutting-edge research skills to those health problems affecting Tasmanians is vital to the future of medical research and I feel it’s particularly important that we are able to maintain this support with the significant challenges facing research in the current pandemic,” Prof Dickinson said.

Stay tuned to find out more about the progress and get to know the team working on this vital study in the months to come.