Who’s Who at The Children’s Cancer Centre

Lead researcher Denise Caruso provided this report for the CIKA Newsletter in July 2006. It outlines the activities of the Children’s Cancer Centre.

The Children’s Cancer Centre at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne is a comprehensive unit that encompasses clinical and research arms in order to deliver the best possible care for children with cancer. While in the last twenty years there have been significant advances in the treatment of children with cancer, current therapies have reached their limits of toxicity and efficacy.  We at the CCC aim to further the understanding of the biological basis of cancer to improve the  current therapies and diagnostics, develop novel therapies, discover prevention strategies.

The research labs consist of five working groups headed by senior scientists who direct the research projects within their special area of expertise.  A/Prof David Ashley, Director of the CCC. oversees all the research and clinical aspects of the CCC and heads the Tumour Immunology Lab.  Dr Denise Caruso is the Senior Researcher in The Tumour Immunology Lab.  This group of researchers is interested in understanding how the immune system plays a role in cancer development, and how tumours affect the immune system.  We are also developing immunotherapy protocols that will soon be in clinical trials the RCH.

The Molecular Oncology Lab is headed by Dr Elizabeth Algar.  Dr Algar has set up important diagnostic tests to further refine diagnoses that result in the stratification of treatment for patients.  This allows clinicians to have more information about each patient’s cancer and to prescribe the most effective therapy, with the least toxicity necessary to achieve a good outcome.  Dr Algar also conducts research in cancer pre-disposition syndromes, which will give us clues as to how tumours arise.

The Leukaemia/Stem Cell Lab is headed by Dr Ngaire Elwood.  Dr Elwood is interested in improving therapy for leukaemia by optimising cord blood transplants.  Her research also focuses on the biology of leukaemia and understanding factors that contribute to leukaemia’s development and progression.

The Apoptosis Lab is headed by Dr Christine Hawkins.  Apoptosis is the process whereby cells kill themselves when they sense that there is something wrong with them.  In many cancers there is a defect in this process and cancerous cells continue to grow when they should be killed.  Dr Hawkins’ group is working on understanding these processes in cancer, particularly brain tumours.  Furthermore many chemotherapeutic agents work by stimulating apoptosis and tumours that have defects in apoptosis can be resistant to these therapies.  Dr Hawkins and her group are working on developing novel strategies to overcome these defects.

The Cell Biology Lab is headed by Dr Paul Ekert.  Dr Ekert is also investigating the role of apoptosis in cancer and is interested in the molecules that are involved.  The Cell Biology Lab is looking at this process in blood cells to try to understand how molecules such as growth factors regulate the molecules that control apoptosis, and how aberrations in this  process might contribute to cancer development and cancer treatment.