Christine Hawkins Addresses CIKA

The CIKA committee was fortunate to hear a presentation from Associate Professor Christine Hawkins, former head of the apoptosis laboratory at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), at our May meeting. Christine is currently working at La Trobe University where she is researching possible new treatments for a range of sarcomas, in particular osteosarcoma, which is primarily a childhood cancer and still has a relatively poor prognosis. She explained that, despite survival rates rising from around 20% in the 1960’s to around 65% in the 1980’s, there has been little improvement since then, although these days amputation of the affected limb is usually avoided. Where amputation is necessary, advances in the design of prostheses has improved the lives of survivors.

Chemotherapy generally involves the use of doxorubicin or cisplatin, both of which have severe and permanent detrimental side effects which can ultimately prove fatal or result in the eventual creation of new cancers. Moreover survival rates for patients in which the original cancer has metastasised, usually resulting in pulmonary tumours, remain at their previously low level.

Christine is researching a new class of anticancer agents known as Smac mimetics, in particular LCL161. These compounds induce apoptotic cancer cell death and block pro-survival signalling in cancer cells. Following a series of in vitro experiments with LCL161 alone or in combination with doxorubicin it seems that a combination is likely to prove effective in reducing or eliminating primary tumours and in reducing lung metastases. Further research is likely to involve the use of cell lines such as those held in the MCRI tissue bank which CIKA has been proud to support for several years.

The CIKA committee is grateful to Christine for sharing the results of her work and we look forward to learning more as it progresses.