Cancer continues to be a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the community. Sydney Medical School Foundation has supported programs of research into the prevention, cause and treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer and liver cancer, as well as measuring the effects of genes, environment and behaviour on cancer risk and outcome.

Prostate cancer: Associate Professor Qihan Dong (1996-2011)

Associate Professor Qihan Dong

Associate Professor Dong was trained as a physician but pursued a research career after being awarded his PhD in 1992 from the University of Sydney. He then continued as a Fogarty Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, USA. On returning to Sydney in 1996, he was appointed as the Head of the Cancer Biology Group with Program Grant funding from Sydney Medical School Foundation. The Group has grown from 1 PhD student to now include 11 members. Currently, his research is supported by Reginald Ward and Adrian Cotter Foundation.

Prostate cancer is a heterogeneous disease with a wide spectrum in pathology and clinical outcomes. Currently there are no clinically available biomarkers that can be used to differentiate between indolent and biologically aggressive disease. Professor Dong and his team have identified several potential biomarkers and the value of these markers in predicting aggressive prostate cancer in patients will now be determined. The impact of the research is through a simple assay on the biopsy specimens, the identified patients can benefit from earlier and aggressive treatment, whereas others can avoid unnecessary over-treatment. By performing a variety of studies examining how these aggressive prostate cancer-associated biomarkers contribute to progression from indolent to biologically aggressive disease, the team aims to understand the mechanisms by which these aggressive cancer cells survive and growth. Finally, therapeutic potential of targeting these biomarkers will be determined.

Molecular genetics of common human diseases: Professor Juergen Reichardt (2005-2009)

Professor Juergen Reichardt

Professor Juergen Reichardt’s research is on the molecular genetics of common human diseases. Human diseases can be caused by single genes or by the interaction of multiple genes. The molecular and genetic bases of single gene disorders, such, as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and others, is well understood and improves diagnosis and therapy. In fact the research group led by Juergen Reichardt PhD cloned the genes responsible for galactosemia, a disease that impairs milk sugar metabolism in humans. The Reichardt Group also identified the genetic lesions responsible for this disease.

Unfortunately, the much more common diseases caused by multiple genes, such as heart disease and cancer, are not as well understood. Developing molecular and genetic pictures of such common diseases would be of great public health benefit by improving diagnosis and treatment and perhaps even leading to prevention.

This team of scientists is intent on unravelling the molecular and genetic basis of common ailments, such as prostate cancer and atherosclerosis, among others. They are taking advantage of the new knowledge garnered through the now complete sequencing of the human genome.

As human geneticists and biochemists the Reichardt Group wishes to understand how the human genome, in conjunction with the environment, such as diet, produces the multitude of human phenotypes (or the immediate cause of human disease and the object of genetic selection). This research team is particularly interested in the contribution of human genetic variation to common, complex, significant public health problems. The Reichardt Group also has an interest in understanding the genetics of human metabolism and genetic variation thereof.

Cancer genes, environment and behaviour program: Professor Bruce Armstrong (2002-2008)

Professor Bruce Armstrong

Professor Bruce Armstrong heads the Cancer genes, environment and behaviour program, funded by Sydney Medical School Foundation. The program aims to increase knowledge of the interacting contributions that genetic, environmental and behavioural factors make to risk and outcomes of cancer through epidemiological studies of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cutaneous melanoma, acute lymphocytic leukaemia and breast cancer.

These studies will add new knowledge to present evidence that environmental and behavioural risk factors are important in the occurrence and the outcome of cancer, and will identify common genetic variants that influence cancer occurrence and outcomes and modify the impact of the environmental risk factors. Given the important role that immune function is thought to play in determining whether clinical cancer develops from an initiated cell and whether related cancer recurs and progresses, the results of our work with variants of immune function genes are likely to be of substantial significance, both in understanding the mechanisms of cancer development and progression and in guiding development of preventive and therapeutic interventions.

Breast cancer: Professor Robert Baxter (1995-1999)

Professor Robert Baxter

Program Grant funding by Sydney Medical School Foundation allowed Professor Rob Baxter to explore the ways in which a protein he had previously discovered, IGFBP-3, acts as a brake on normal cell growth, and how some cancer cells have developed mechanisms to avoid this braking action, leading to uncontrolled growth.

Professor Baxter received one of the inaugural Sydney Medical School Foundation Program Grants in 1995 and is the Director of the Kolling Institute of Medical Research at Royal North Shore Hospital, the University’s Department of Molecular Medicine, and head of the Growth Research Group.

Professor Baxter and his team have made many new discoveries about the processes that regulate breast cancer cell growth. These discoveries have made significant contribution to the world-wide effort to understand and control the development and progression of breast cancer.