Children's Cancer Research Unit (CCRU)

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Overview

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The Childrens Cancer Research Unit is the research-dedicated arm of the clinical Oncology Department. It undertakes basic, clinical and translational cancer research.

The Unit carries out research into a number of cancer types, with a focus on the solid tumours of childhood and adolescence that have a poor patient prognosis such as neuroblastoma, brain tumours and childhood sarcomas.

As experimental models are not available for all cancer types, researchers within the unit also use models of more common cancers to discover critical mechanisms in tumour progression. These discoveries can then be applied to rarer childhood cancers.

Research programs aim to increase understanding of the molecular and cellular basis of childhood and other cancers, and to develop new cancer treatments using gene therapy and molecularly targeted approaches. The Unit also aims to facilitate and promote research into childhood cancer through the provision of high quality clinical specimens, laboratory research platforms, and research expertise. More details on the research programs can be found in the five individual groups' outline pages.

The Unit has research programs in the following areas, also linked on the left menu:

The Unit's Tumour Bank also includes the Pathology Support Laboratory, which provides specialized expertise in research-based tissue handling techniques.

To learn more about clinical research being undertaken within the Oncology Department, please visit the Oncology Department webpage.

Research achievements

This year, researchers in the Focal Adhesion Biology Group made a major advance in understanding how cell migration is regulated in cancer. Members of the group were part of an international, cross-disciplinary collaboration which published the first reported protein structure of the C-terminus of the pro-metastastic protein NEDD9. This new knowledge will enable the future design of molecules to inhibit the function of this protein and thus slow cancer metastasis.

Funding through the Clinical Research Fellowship (Cancer Institute of NSW) has for the first time allowed the Neuroblastoma Research Group to identify ALT (alternative lengthening of telomeres) as a distinct mechanism by which neuroblastoma cancer cells maintain the ends of chromosomes and thereby allow cells to grow indefinitely. This knowledge will enhance the understanding of the cause of neuroblastoma, which is one of the most common childhood cancers.

In 2008, the Cancer Gene Therapy Group has made significant progress in the initiation of a Cancer Gene Therapy Clinical Trial, with the successful production of the gene transfer reagent (vector) required for use in the trial. This vector was produced under cleanroom conditions at the Childrens Hospital at Westmead within the Westfield Gene and Cell Medicine Facility, and has been qualified for clinical use, meeting standards for testing by two independent laboratories. The trial, once approved, will provide an alternative therapy for patients with poor prognosis tumours as it will allow high doses of chemotherapy to be administered without increasing the side effects that would normally accompany this treatment.

Research support (2008/09)

Postgraduate student scholarships and awards

Cuc Bach, NHMRC Biomedical Postgraduate Scholarship ($40,000 over 2 years)

Jessie Zhong, Muriel and Walter Lumley Scholarship, Faculty of Medicine ($60,000 over 3 years)

Cuc Bach, NSW Cancer Institute Scholar Award ($50,000 over 2 years)

Further funding support can be found on the outline page under each of the individual research group listings, linked directly here: