Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI) has around one hundred scientists and research students, working in teams that focus on four main areas of research: children's cancer (which forms over 50% of its research), embryonic development/birth defects, nerve cell signalling, and gene therapy. Our aim is to accelerate research into childhood cancer to find a cure for all cancers, so Australian kids can live normal, happy lives.
How we're fighting kids' cancer
One of the most important differences between cancer cells and normal cells is that cancer cells can keep on multiplying an unlimited number of times, but normal cells eventually stop dividing. This difference is where we have chosen to focus our attention, as it has the potential to provide an answer to one of the most problematic issues in cancer treatment – how to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
It is the progressive shortening of telomeres (the DNA at the ends of chromosomes) which sets a limit on the number of times normal cells can divide. This does contribute to aging, but also acts as a powerful protection against normal cells becoming cancerous.
Cancers evade this limitation, and effectively become ‘immortal’, by switching on one of two telomere lengthening mechanisms: an enzyme called telomerase or the Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) mechanism. If blocking telomere lengthening mechanisms is to become a viable option for cancer treatment, we need a thorough understanding of both mechanisms.
Partnering to find cures
CMRI is a big believer in working with the wider research community to make the discoveries needed to fight kids' cancer, and that's why it collaborates not just with organisations right around Australia but in New Zealand and around the globe. The newly-launched Centre for Kinomics, which is designed to help develop better anti-cancer therapeutics with fewer side effects, is a partnership with the University of Newcastle as just one example and our 100 strong team of scientists collaborate with counterparts at hospitals, universities and other research institutes in Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong to name just a few.
Though its work with the Kids' Cancer Alliance, CMRI in ensuring the discoveries it makes in the lab are efficiently trialled and rolled out, ensuring its advances have a real and timely impact on the treatment of kids.
Kids’ Cancer Alliance
CMRI is a founding member of the Kids Cancer Alliance, which brings together six Australian childhood cancer research and clinical care organisations under a single banner. The alliance allows discoveries, treatments and diagnostics to reach more children more quickly and improve the power of research studies.
Amongst the alliance’s current projects is an assessment project aimed at reducing toxicity and enhancing efficacy in child cancer patients undergoing therapy, and the development of a best practice model of care for survivors of paediatric cancer.
CMRI cancer unit's major achievements:
2015 We discovered that cancer cells which switch on Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT) by losing ATRX gene function are much more fragile than normal cells when exposed to various forms of stress. We are using this knowledge to design treatments that will kill ALT-positive cancers with minimal side effects on normal cells.
2014 CMRI identified a gene that causes inherited bone marrow failure and uncovered a key anti-cancer target for ALT cancers - some of the most aggressive types.
2013 CMRI demonstrated that ALT has a normal counterpart in cells and developed a new model system for studying the ALT mechanism.
2012 Our scientists were involved in an international study identifying key genetic change (loss of ATP-dependent helicase) in ALT .
2011 We licensed C-circle assay for research use as a test for ALT cancers, helping identify the disease in kids easier and earlier.
2009 Our scientists developed C-circle assay for measuring ALT activity in cancer and discovered a telomere trimming mechanism that could one day be exploited to target and kill cancer cells.
2007 We were the first in the world to identify composition of active telomerase enzyme complex in human cells.
2000 CMRI demonstrated that ALT involves DNA recombination, becoming the first in the world to show this underlying mechanism.
1999 Our scientists found a diagnostic marker for ALT, called APBs, and also showed that unknown factors in normal cells can repress ALT cancers.
1995 We discovered ALT mechanism of telomere maintenance in cancer, which created an entirely new field of research .
For more information on CMRI, visit www.cmri.org.au.