ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer

ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer

Branching network of milk transport ducts
The ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer division is focused on breast, ovarian and lung cancers. Our aim is to understand the normal organ development and perturbations that give rise to cancer in order to discover new therapies.

Unlocking breast cancer secrets

Researchers discovered the protein MCL-1 is critical for keeping milk-producing cells alive and sustaining milk production in the breast.

Dr Nai Yang Fu, Professor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader found that breast stem cells and luminal progenitor cells both required MCL-1 for their survival. Both cell types have been implicated in some breast cancers, suggesting MCL-1 may be an important target for breast cancer drugs.

The research also identified the growth factor EGF was a key inducer of MCL-1 during lactation. Determining whether this mechanism also operates in breast cancer could reveal new ways of targeting the disease.

Gift of hope for rare cancers

People with rare cancers are more likely to die from their disease than people with more common cancers, and rare cancers cause one in three cancer-related deaths in Australia. Cancer researcher and clinician Associate Professor Clare Scott is working with bioinformatics researcher Associate Professor Tony Papenfuss to develop new strategies to select the best treatments for people diagnosed with rare cancers.

The institute’s rare cancer research effort has been boosted by a $3 million gift from the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation, which will fund the Stafford Fox Centenary Fellowship in rare cancer biology and genomics, and the Stafford Fox Centenary Fellow in bioinformatics.

Clifford Prize for cancer research

For almost two decades, Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman have investigated how normal breast tissue develops, to help understand how normal processes go awry during breast cancer development. Their team was the first to identify and isolate breast stem cells. Subsequent research implicated these stem cells as the potential cell of origin for breast cancer, and helped explain why female hormones are linked to increased breast cancer risk.

In recognition of these contributions, Professor Visvader was a joint recipient of the Centre for Cancer Biology’s 2015 Clifford Prize, with Professor Inder Verma of the Salk Institute (US).

Health impact

Cancers: breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer

Other areas: chronic lung disease, personalised medicine

Division heads

Professor Geoff Lindeman

Professor Jane Visvader

Lab heads

Dr Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat

Associate Professor Clare Scott (jointly with Molecular Genetics of Cancer division)

Dr Kate Sutherland

Division coordinator

Dr Kirsten Hogg