In a capital famous for its impressive monuments, last week’s American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting (AACR) was an impressive meeting of minds.

More than 21,900 of the world’s top cancer researchers from over 60 countries gathered in Washington DC from 1-5 April to share progress in the global search for a cure. Australian researchers, including researchers from our Institute, were well-represented.

Among the Aussies was our own Professor Maria Kavallaris, Head of the Institute’s Tumour Biology and Targeting lab and recently profiled on ABC Online. She said AACR is an important annual forum for sharing scientific information and ideas in very diverse areas of cancer research.

“It’s the largest gathering of cancer researchers in the world – the place to go to find latest advances,” she said.

Hot topics presented over the five days included developments in immunotherapy and precision or personalised medicine (eg. the Zero Childhood Cancer program led by us and Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network), plus amazing new research areas like how microbes living in human guts or mouths are linked to cancers.

So much to learn

PhD student Christine Gana, from our Experimental Therapeutics lab, was among the youngest delegates and benefited from the buzz of the conference. She presented her findings on chemotherapy drug transporter protein MRP1 and neuroblastoma. Christine said she found the conference awe-inspiring.

PhD student Christine Gana presenting at AACR17
PhD student Christine Gana presenting at AACR17

“It was my first time going so, even though I heard a lot about it from other people, I was still overwhelmed by the size of the conference and the quality of the research. I was honoured to present our research and glad it got so much interest.

There were so many interesting talks happening at the same time, it was difficult to choose which one to go to. I learned a lot and it’s inspiring to see the work put into different areas of cancer research,” she said.

Childhood cancer survivors and secondary cancers

Every day at the conference, new research findings captured news headlines as scientists presented them to the cancer research community for the first time.

On day 3 of the conference, researchers at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee announced results of a study into child cancer survivors and secondary cancers, ie cancers that occur often years or decades after treatment.

The researchers sequenced the entire genomes of 434 childhood cancer survivors and found that many have mutations in cancer predisposition genes, significantly increasing their risk of developing a secondary cancer later in life. Among the 434 people studied, there were 1,117 secondary cancers with 93 of the cancer survivors having 2 or more different secondary cancers.

Secondary cancers, infertility, learning disorders and hearing loss are just some of the side effects of childhood cancer treatment, which can be serious and life-long. Minimising toxic side-effects of childhood cancer treatment is a major goal for our research. We’re looking for safer treatments that target cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone.

Read more facts about late effects of childhood cancer.

Top image: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is one of the many monuments in Washington DC.



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