Funding boosts search for children’s brain cancer cure

By Rob Clancy, staff writer. Reviewed by Dr Claire Xin Sun

Pouya Faridi and Claire Sun receiving MRFF grant for research into children’s brain cancer at Hudson Insitute
L-r: Dr Pouya Faridi, Dr Claire Sun

A deadly form of children’s brain cancer that’s immune to chemotherapy is the target of new research at Hudson Institute, looking at the epigenome and immuno-therapies for answers.

Thanks to funding from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), Dr Claire Sun will lead a team investigating paediatric high-grade glioma (pHGG), the deadliest form of central nervous system cancer, and the leading cause of disease-related mortality in children.

Their research will make full use of Hudson Institute’s Childhood Cancer Model Atlas (CCMA), a collection of more than 300 childhood cancer cell lines providing an opportunity to identify and test new therapies and biomarkers of response for the most difficult-to-treat paediatric cancers.

Testing potential children’s brain cancer treatments

Dr Sun’s expertise in bioinformatics, plus the ability of the CCMA to rapidly test large numbers of potential treatments on hundreds of tumour cell lines, opens exciting possibilities.

“The MRFF has provided a $993,500 Early to Mid-Career grant over the next two years for us to tackle this challenge,” Dr Sun said.

“It’s an incredible opportunity, and the kind of thing that simply would not have been possible without the CCMA.”

“We are taking actual samples of the hardest-to-treat cancers and testing thousands of possible treatments on them in very quick time.”

How children’s brain cancer evades the immune system

“In this project we will investigate the epigenetic changes that occur in these cancers and how they help these tumours evade our natural immune system.”

Working with other leading children’s brain cancer collaborators, Dr Sun is lead Chief Investigator on this project, along with Hudson Institute research group head, Dr Pouya Faridi, as well as Dr Holly Holliday and Dr Marion Mateos from the Children’s Cancer Institute and Dr Rebecca Poulos of the Children’s Medical Research Institute.

Dr Faridi added: “We have pioneered a highly innovative strategy for crafting precise immunotherapies tailored to paediatric glioma.”

“This ground-breaking approach has the potential to yield therapies that are not only more efficient but also associated with minimal short and long-term side effects.

“This aspect is particularly crucial in paediatric cancer therapy,” he said.

What is epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of how our environment and lifestyle can affect the expression of our genes. It is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code itself.

This proposal will investigate the epigenetic changes that occur in pHGG tumours and their role in how these tumours evade our natural immune system.

“This study will advance therapeutic strategies on how combining epigenetic and immuno-therapies can be effectively employed in children’s brain cancer,” Dr Sun said.

Advancing immunotherapy treatments

Cancer immunotherapy is an innovative treatment method that enhances the body’s immune system to combat and regulate cancer. Dr Pouya Faridi leads a team using leading-edge technologies to find new targets for advancing cancer immunotherapy. Focusing on the immune response and cancer treatment, the Translational Antigen Discovery laboratory’s research holds great promise for revolutionising cancer treatment with more targeted and effective approaches.

The same lab is also leading the development of precision vaccines tailored for childhood cancers, including children’s brain cancers.

Collaborators | CIA: Dr Claire Sun, CIB Dr Holly Holliday (Children’s Cancer Institute), CIC: Dr Rebecca Poulos (Children’s Medical Research Institute), CID: Dr Marion Mateos (Children’s Cancer Institute), CIE: Dr Pouya Faridi (Hudson)

This research was supported by | Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)

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