Areas of research

Research activity carried out by members of the Cancer Research Network can be largely grouped according to The Common Scientific Outline, or CSO, an international classification system organised around seven broad areas of scientific interest in cancer research:

Biology

Improving our understanding of the fundamental aspects of cell biology is very relevant to cancer research as it provides information about the normal cellular state, relative to the changes that occur during transformation into a cancerous state. The scope of research in this area is great – ranging from the study of normal functioning genes involved in development and aging (including their identification and expression), to the role of hormones, growth factors, normal cell-cell interactions and the extracellular matrix. The information gained from such research may shed light on cancer initiation, (including alterations in chromosomes, oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes), and cancer progression and metastasis.

Etiology (causes of cancer)

Etiology is the study of causation, and research in this area is related to the causal agents, processes and cells involved in early events in carcinogenesis. Areas of focus in cancer etiology involve the effects of cancer causing agents, such as chemicals, radiation and viruses, human behaviours and lifestyles that affect cancer risk, and biological factors that may increase or reduce risk of cancer, such as inflammation, DNA repair mechanisms and immunological responses. Research in this area often also take into account the interactions between genetic variation and external or internal causal factors. Linking disciplines such as physics and chemistry, microbiology, molecular biology, pathology and epidemiology can do a lot to advance research in this field.

Prevention

For some cancers, the most logical approach is to find means of prevention. Research in the area of cancer prevention focuses on reducing exposure to environmental factors that affect risk and understanding and promoting change in personal behaviours, such as sun exposure and diet, which may increase or decrease a person’s chances of getting cancer. Critical prevention areas such as tobacco control and public policy, research into chemoprevention, and the discovery, development and testing of complementary or alternative prevention approaches are also important avenues of investigation.

Early detection, diagnosis and prognosis

Recent advances in anatomic and molecular imaging, molecular biology, and other new technologies are constantly improving our ability to characterise malignancy. An emphasis on improving imaging technologies and biopsy procedures will not only enhance detection and characterisation of tumours, but may also create opportunities for improved treatment and development of new therapeutics.

New molecular-based techniques are enabling us to identify features of individual cells by analysing unique and identifiable cell signatures - special characteristics, such as which genes are active, and which products are manufactured by the cell. During the transformation of a normal cell to a cancerous cell this signature changes. Therefore, a focus on genetic marker discovery and evaluation, marker testing in a clinical setting and epidemiological studies pertaining to risk assessment, may improve early detection, diagnosis and prognosis of cancer.

Treatment

Research in this area focuses on localised and systemic therapies, ranging from discovery and development through to clinical applications, with the goal of providing cancer patients with innovative treatment options (including applications of conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery).

Cancer control, survivorship and outcomes research

Within this field, healthcare delivery, education and communication, ethics, and palliative care represent areas of strength in cancer research at The University of Sydney. Due to advances in early detection and treatment, patient care and survivorship issues (such as quality of life and pain management), in particular, have come to the fore.

Scientific model systems

Research involving the creation and use of scientific model systems is diverse, comprising various molecular, genetic, biochemical and animal model approaches to the analysis of cancer. Model systems, including the generation of genetically accurate models of specific human cancer types, are very valuable tools for cancer researchers, so developing and characterising these and other systems is very important to facilitate advancements in cancer research.