New Insights Into Cancer Diagnosis

Researchers hope a new project funded by the Children’s Cancer Foundation will revolutionise cancer diagnosis and treatment by providing new insights into the mechanisms that drive paediatric cancer.   

The project will use an advanced technique called ‘RNA-sequencing’ that can read the genetic code in cancer cells to identify the changes that are the cause of the cancer. 

The Children’s Cancer Foundation is providing $280,000 over two years to the research team from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, led by Associate Professor Paul Ekert, with Dr Alicia Oshlack.  

In all cells, including cancer cells, the genetic changes that drive disease occur in the genes, or DNA, of the cell. The genes are ’read’ by special machinery in the cells and the code is transcribed into another form of genetic message called RNA. 

It is this RNA that determines which genetic instructions are being read at any one time. So, by being able to read the RNA code the researchers will obtain detailed insights into what makes a cancer cell different from a normal cell. 

One of the strengths of the project is that the research team have already developed expertise in the complex bioinformatics methods needed to analyse and understand the RNA sequencing data.   

This information will then be used to develop a testing platform and ultimately a clinical tool for the management of children with cancer, directing them towards clinical trials that test new treatments directly targeting the specific genes causing that cancer. The clinical tool will be made freely available to the paediatric cancer research and clinical community together with recommendations for national standards of testing.

The researchers believe this new technique may eventually replace current testing methods because it is more comprehensive in identifying all the clinically important genomic features of cancers. 

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