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Cutting edge cancer research revealed -

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Australia is one of 11 countries taking part in a global effort to unlock the genetic secrets of 50
types of common cancers. Australia's contribution to the billion dollar project is focused on
advances in pancreatic and ovarian cancer treatment. The first results of the revolutionary
research are starting to emerge and could eventually lead to personalised cancer treatment. The
outcomes from the International Genome Consortium could dramatically improve survival rates.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Still on health, a decade after the first mapping of the human genome,
more and more advances are being made in the treatment of genetic diseases.

Now the first results are emerging from a global effort to unlock the genetic secrets of the fifty
most common types of cancer.

Australia is one of eleven countries taking part in the billion dollar project.

The International Cancer Genome Consortium will create a resource of data freely available to
cancer researchers around the world.

It's predicted the revolutionary work will eventually lead to personalised cancer treatment,
dramatically improving survival rates.

Tracey Bowden reports.

TRACEY BOWDEN, REPORTER: This year an estimated 114,000 Australians will be told they have cancer.

More than 40,000 people will die from the disease.

While the survival rate for many cancers is rising, treatment is still often a case of trial and

And in one of the most aggressive forms, pancreatic cancer, few patients live beyond a year.

JAN MUMFORD, CANCER SURVIVOR: Anybody who goes into a doctor's surgery and is told they have cancer
goes to a place where it is all dark.

(To son) So what I want you to do after you finish papers is get all your clothes ready so we can
check that you've got everything okay?

TRACEY BOWDEN: Jan Mumford was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in her mid 30s, when her son
William was just a baby. She was told she had a five per cent chance of surviving 5 years.

That was more than a decade ago.

JAN MUMFORD: You are faced with an operation or no operation. You can have one chemo treatment and
there is virtually nothing else on offer.

TRACEY BOWDEN: It's now known that cancer is caused by genetic mutations in cells, but in two
patients diagnosed with the same form of cancer, different genetic changes could be responsible.
And that means they may react different to treatment.

But if a cancer sufferer's full genetic information can be mapped, that could lead to a
personalised approach, with drugs designed to attack the specific fault driving the disease.

Australian researchers taking part in the International Cancer Genome Consortium are focusing on
two forms. One team is studying ovarian cancer, and the other, the disease which struck Jan
Mumford, pancreatic cancer.

big thing to go through and the average survival is only 12 months.

TRACEY BOWDEN: Professor Andrew Biankin is both a surgeon and researcher. He knows well the
challenges and limitations of treating pancreatic cancer.

ANDREW BIANKIN: Cancer is a genetic disease. What happens with cancer is its cells are growing out
of control and the reason they are growing out of control is because there's problems, mutations,
in their genes and by mapping out all of those genes in the cancer we can start to put together the
detail of how- what's happened in this cancer's history and then be able to pick those that are the
really important ones so we can develop drugs for them.

TRACEY BOWDEN: At Sydney's Garvan Institute scientists are preparing samples of 400 pancreatic
tumours, donated by patients suffering from the disease.

Then in the Brisbane laboratory of Professor Sean Grimmond, the sequencing takes place.

combination of super computer, microscope and a nanotechnology device that allows us to sequence
billions of reads in a single run.

At the moment it takes us a month to sequence a genome and then the mother of all puzzle building
exercises to make sense of what went wrong. That sort of timeline is not suitable for a clinical

TRACEY BOWDEN: Doctors hope that the current method of treatment, where the drug most likely to
work is given first, then if that isn't successful they try another and so on, will become a thing
of the past.

SEAN GRIMMOND: This work is focussed towards trying to take the guess work out of the likes of
chemotherapy. We should be able to tailor therapies to have a much better chance of a response when
we treat each individual cancer.

It's a second-generation DNA sequencer. One of these machines can do what forty or fifty similar
size machines could do just two or three years ago.

TRACEY BOWDEN: Professor David Bowtell and his team at Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
hope to unlock the secrets of ovarian cancer. Like pancreatic cancer, it is usually diagnosed late
and has a high mortality rate.

DAVID BOWTELL: We already know from our work that the most common form of ovarian cancer really is
at least four different types of cancer, each with a different kind of molecular makeup, so we're
trying to do is to understand how each of those types tick and then target the therapies that are
most likely to work in a particular type to the women that have that type of disease.

TRACEY BOWDEN: The first human genome project, which sequenced half a dozen people, cost $1.5
billion and took 15 years. The same amount of data can now be processed in a week at a fraction of
the cost.

DAVID BOWTELL: I think it's an incredibly exciting time to be a biologist, really. I mean, the
opportunity to really peer inside a cancer cell and understand what makes it work, it's the first
time that we've really had the chance to do that.

TRACEY BOWDEN: The International Cancer Genome Consortium plans to catalogue 25,000 full genomes of
the 50 most common cancers and create a bank of data freely available to researchers around the

All the teams participating have agreed not to patent their material.

SEAN GRIMMOND: This is certainly the most exciting part of my career. It keeps me up at night and
gets me out of bed early in the morning and it's very much so, the entire consortium can see the
enormous potential of this work.

TRACEY BOWDEN: Jan Mumford knows firsthand the horrors of a diagnosis of cancer.

She believes that as this new science goes from bench to bedside, patients will have a much better
shot at survival.

JAN MUMFORD: This is really exciting because this is going to be research at the very, very
fundamental level - at the cell level - and that is going to impact on all the research that
follows on - any drug that is being tested, any treatment that can be offered will be based on what
this research is going to find out.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tracey Bowden with that report.