The Future Industries Institute is committed to tackling one of the most challenging diseases “Cancer” and is now involved in one of the largest group of cancer researchers ever assembled in South Australia.

With a focus on personalised precision treatments, better diagnostics, prevention and survivorship, UniSA has created a central cancer research hub housing over 300 leading biomedical, genetic and pharmacological cancer researchers in the new $247million Cancer Research Institute.

This research utilises the work of Future Industries Institute research specialists in nanotechnology, radiobiology, drug engineering, psychology and allied health.

There have been major advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, but many questions remain. Why do some treatments work on some people and not others? Why are the survival rates of some cancers still so low? And how can we prevent the estimated 22 million cancer cases that will be diagnosed annually worldwide within the next 20 years?

This work informs at the international and national level, leading to fundamental understanding of cancer development and breakthroughs in treatments for hard to treat cancers. It also delivers improved diagnostic and personalised therapeutic approaches directly to patients.

The following articles showcase how the Future Industries Institute is engaged and contributing to this groundbreaking research.

Smart new device to detect skin cancer

Professor Tarl Prow and Dr Miko YamadaProfessor Tarl Prow and Dr Miko Yamada

New technology will soon be available for any doctor to quickly and painlessly check if a patient has skin cancer.

In Australia more than 1,000,000 patients see their doctor for skin cancer consultations each year. Around 750,000 of these patients have a non-melanoma cancer that requires treatment.

This game-changing device created by Professor Tarl Prow and Dr Miko Yamada, allows doctors to take a tiny pinprick sample from the skin that captures roughly 200 cells.

It will allow many patients to avoid the need for painful biopsies that are currently undertaken to test if a skin blemish is cancerous – avoiding the need for short anaesthetic surgeries and stitches that often leave scars of 2-3cms in length.

This device will make it easier to identify which skin cancers require immediate removal for further testing and which ones can be monitored over time if they pose no major threat.

The device is now in final clinical trials and will soon be available worldwide.

Treating cancer with gold particles

Associate Professor Ivan KempsonAssociate Professor Ivan Kempson

Gold nanoparticle technology is showing game-changing potential as a new approach to stop metastatic cancer in its tracks and revolutionise how cancers are treated.

A research team led by Associate Professor Ivan Kempson has discovered a way to cripple a major DNA damage repair mechanism that cancers use to recover between doses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

All cells have this DNA damage repair ability, including cancers - which is a major treatment issue in the fight to cure cancer, particularly metastatic cancers that have spread to other parts of the body and are much more aggressive.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy work by delivering a toxic blow to cancer cells to damage them repeatedly until they die. Unfortunately, healthy cells are also damaged and they require time between treatments to recover.

The aim is for healthy cells to repair between treatment sessions but the need to stop the cancers from having the same opportunity to repair. This therapy would be delivered by tiny gold nanoparticles that have been specifically designed to ensure they are targeted for delivery directly into cancer cells and not circulated throughout the body.

These tiny gold nanoparticles offer a radical new approach to stopping cancer in its tracks.

Non-invasive technology to find urothelial cancers

Dr Melanie MacGregor and Kola OstrikovDr Melanie MacGregor and Kola Ostrikov

This team is working to develop a new non-invasive point of care technology for the detection of urothelial cancers from urine samples.

Cancer of the urothelial tract, kidney and bladder together have a higher mortality rate than melanoma in Australia and cancer survivors require frequent surveillance for the rest of their lives. Current diagnostic tests are painful and costly and new clinical tools are urgently required.

The device is based on a patented plasma polymer coating developed at UniSA that has unique properties for biomedical use. This team has demonstrated the fluidic device’s ability to selectively capture cancer cells in controlled test conditions and also from patient urine samples.

Based on promising preliminary results from screening cancer patient samples, the team is now testing the technology in a pre-clinical study.  This work may well lead to the first commercially available device for cancer cell detection from urine.

The technology has attracted industry investment. Together with SMR Technology, an independent division of SMR Automotive Australia Pty Ltd, an expanded research team is now working together in a Cooperative Research Centre Project towards the industrialisation of the diagnostic device for non-invasive bladder cancer detection.

A simple approach to wipe out skin cancer

Professor Allison CowinProfessor Allison Cowin

Professor Cowin and her team are developing a revolutionary new approach for the treatment of skin cancers. They have discovered that a protein that affects the way our body heals which is hijacked by skin cancer tumours to grow and spread. They have also identified antibodies that can bind to the protein and neutralise it to prevent and treat skin cancers.

They are now looking at how to improve the healing of wounds by manipulating the Flightless I protein when it was discovered that it also plays a role in skin cancers.

Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. The cost of diagnosis and treatment is enormous, around $500 million every year. Effective new therapies are urgently needed.

Together with cancer experts and pharmaceutical scientists, Professor Cowin is developing a monoclonal antibody therapy for the treatment of skin cancers.

Monoclonal antibody therapies deliver specific therapeutic molecules that can bind to a protein and block their ability to work in a certain manner. In this case, blocking the Flightless I protein from helping skin cancer cells to grow and spread.

Pinpointing cancer spread during surgery

Dr Aidan Cousins and Professor Benjamin ThierryDr Aidan Cousins and Professor Benjamin Thierry

Dr Cousins leads this project with Professor Benjamin Thierry and recently developed a new device that is helping cancer doctors pinpoint the accuracy of surgery to remove cancers that have spread into other areas of the body.

This revolutionary new device called the Ferronova Probe, will solve a clinical problem in the successful treatment of cancers using magnetic tracers.

Current procedures to find cancers that have spread through the lymphatic system into lymph nodes include injecting radioactive tracers into the tumour area that can be used to find the migration paths of cancer cells. There are problems with this approach due to the limitations of current technologies and the complexity of how lymph nodes are used by different cancers to spread.

Magnetic tracers allow surgeons to locate where cancers have spread within millimetre accuracy, both improving the result of surgery and reducing the need for further operations.

The magnetic tracers are also cheaper and have longer shelf-life than radioactive ones. This means that more smaller and regional hospitals could use the technology to save patients travelling to larger cities for treatment.

This device will begin clinical trials for head and neck cancers in late 2018. It holds the potential to transform clinical procedure by creating a much more targeted approach to tracking cancer spread.

New hope for identifying early-stage ovarian cancer

Professor Peter HoffmanProfessor Peter Hoffman

An early detection test for ovarian cancer is under development at the Future Industries Institute. The test offers a chance to improve the survival rates for the more than 1,500 women diagnosed each year in Australia.

Ovarian cancer is a rare but often a deadly disease as it has thus far proven extremely difficult to identify and treat early. Professor Hoffman has identified a number of autoantibodies produced by the immune system at the early stage of ovarian cancer that offer high accuracy as a biomarker test for detecting early-stage ovarian cancer.

This research resulted from almost a decade of collaborative research with the Royal Adelaide Hospital that included validating our autoantibody test on 320 ovarian cancer patient samples and the results are very promising.

Ovarian cancer, if detected early can often be cured. Unfortunately for many women diagnosed with the disease, it is only detected once it has spread through the abdominal cavity and has become very difficult to treat.

The next step of this research includes larger trials with over 1,000 patients. Once this is complete, it is expected to be rolled out across multiple hospitals for even larger scale trials.