20 May 2009

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers will use a $5 million grant from the Queensland State Government to unlock the genetic causes of pancreatic and ovarian cancer.

The funding was announced overnight by Queensland Trade Minister Stephen Robertson at the world's largest biotechnology conference, Bio, in Atlanta, USA.

The money will establish the Queensland Centre for Medical Genomics, which will be based at UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience and led by Associate Professor Sean Grimmond.

It is part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), a worldwide effort to sequence 50 different types of tumours from 25,000 individuals.

"This is our best chance to develop effective treatment and prevention strategies for cancer," Dr Grimmond said.

"We will combine the resources of countries and laboratories worldwide to create a map of the genetic changes that lead to cancer.

"The map will act as a huge information resource for medical researchers, and should allow for more rapid, personal treatments for cancer sufferers."

Pancreatic and ovarian cancer are two of the most common causes of cancer death in the developed world.

The Australian study will focus on pancreatic cancer, which causes death within half a year in the average patient.

Ovarian cancer is less deadly in its primary form, but as there is no screening test it is usually not discovered until it has spread, making treatment difficult.

"A project of this massive scale can only be achieved by international teams of researchers who have secure funding and access to the latest equipment and technology," Professor Max Lu, UQ's Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), said.

"UQ thanks the Queensland Government for the funds to establish the Centre, which has enormous potential for Queensland patients and their families, and for the direction of biomedical research in the state.

"The expertise that Queensland researchers gain from working on this program will increase our ability to understand and potentially combat many cancers. It will also ensure that we have first access to tools and data from the cancer atlas and the ICGC project."

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright also thanked the Government.

"We hope that this will be the first of many international projects at the Queensland Centre for Medical Genomics, and the IMB thanks the State Government for making the Centre possible," he said.

"This funding has also enabled us to leverage support to Queensland from other organisations."

This support includes a $27.5 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to begin on July 1.

It is the largest grant the NHMRC have ever given to any project. Other technologies supporting the project are being sought from Applied Biosystems (a division of Life Technologies Corporation), and SGI (Silicon Graphics), with other funding from the Cancer Council NSW and UQ.

The IMB will partner with organisations from around Australia to complete the research, including the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Australian Genome Research Facility.

The program will be run in collaboration with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Canada and the US Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, with investigators from the University of California San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University.

Media contacts:

Associate Prof Sean Grimmond – 07 3346 2057
Bronwyn Adams – 07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247

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