THE liver has a remarkable capacity to regenerate. Even after serious trauma it can regrow thanks to cells called hepatocytes that rapidly grow and divide after injury and replace the lost tissue. However, when more chronic damage is done to the liver, for example by diseases such as hepatitis B or alcoholic liver disease, another type of cell comes into play – liver progenitor cells.
Professor George Yeoh and colleagues from the Liver Cancer Laboratory at the University of Western Australia Centre for Medical Research have discovered a link between these liver progenitor cells and liver cancer. Their findings could explain why so many patients with chronic liver disease develop cancer. Read more on page 21.
ARSENIC is not normally associated with saving lives, rather destroying them. Yet this deadly element is a key ingredient in a new compound that is showing promise in the treatment of solid tumours.
Glutathionarsenoxide (GSAO) is an organoarsenical – a synthetic peptide (protein fragment) that includes an atom of arsenic. Professor Philip Hogg and colleagues at the University of NSW Cancer Research Centre created the compound to explore the workings of a particular protein, but then noticed something unusual – their compound was also extremely good at knocking out the mitochondria, which are the energy-producing structures in cells. Read more on page 43.
THE biggest challenge for immune-based anti-tumour therapies is how to penetrate the chaotic mass of tumour blood vessels that screens the tumour from an attack. Even the most efficient anti-cancer drug is rendered ineffectual if it cannot access tumour cells.
However, Associate Professor Ruth Ganss, Principal Research Fellow at the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, may have found a solution.
“Basically we change the tumour so that it becomes more accessible to cells that have the potential to kill,” Associate Professor Ganss says. Read more on page 46.
THE development of computed tomography (CT) marked a major leap forward in medical imaging, allowing doctors to view the inner workings of the human body with far greater clarity. Unfortunately, when it comes to mesothelioma, CT scanning has its limitations, says academic medical oncologist Dr Anna Nowak, a researcher at the University of Western Australia.
Dr Nowak says a CT scan of lymph nodes in the centre of the chest will help identify whether the lymph nodes are enlarged, which could be the result of a tumour. However, the scan does not reveal how much of the swelling is actually a tumour and how much is inflammation that has developed in response to the tumour.
In response, Dr Nowak and colleagues are exploring the use of positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to investigate the spread of mesothelioma, plan treatment and monitor its effects. Read more on page 48.
FOR most people, Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is nothing more than a benign viral hitchhiker that we acquire when young, but which is kept in check by the immune system. However, for patients undergoing bone marrow transplants, whose immune systems are deliberately shut down, CMV is potentially deadly – an opportunistic killer that takes advantage of a compromised immune system to wreak havoc.
As many as one in three bone marrow transplant patients experience a recurrence of CMV infection, which attacks just about every organ in the body with often fatal consequences.
The only weapon doctors have is antiviral medication, which can sometimes hold off the virus long enough for the patient’s own immune system to regenerate and protect them. Read more on page 48.
EACH year in Australia around 225 children are diagnosed with leukaemia. Of these, around 175 are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, making it the most common type of cancer in children aged 14 and under.
Around three-quarters of the children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia are completely cured. However, molecular biologist Professor Murray Norris, Deputy Director of the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia for Medical Research, wants to understand more about the one-quarter of children who relapse after treatment. Read more on page 50.
THE ability to breathe easily is often taken for granted, so when breathing is hampered by end-stage cancer, it can be a frightening experience. Dyspnoea, or difficulty breathing, is a common feature of advanced cancer, yet doctors are not always able to bring relief.
Professor David Currow, Professor of Palliative and Supportive Services at Flinders University, is conducting a pilot study that uses a technique called academic detailing to help GPs better manage breathlessness among cancer patients. Read more on page 66.