UniSA researcher receives grant to develop personalized cancer treatment

Personalized cancer treatment is one step closer to becoming a reality for more patients, thanks to a Cancer Council Beat Cancer Project grant awarded to the University of South Australia researcher Dr. Stephanie Reuter Lange to explore how computer-based modeling can optimize cancer treatment and remove the need for expensive clinical trials.

Dr. Reuter Lange's $300,000 project is one of two UniSA projects successful in today's Cancer Council Beat Cancer Project funding announcement with Professor Peter Hoffmann also securing $100,000 to further critical work in identifying the extent of endometrial cancer and where it has spread.

While cancer treatments are most successful when personalized to an individual, Dr. Reuter Lange says most cancer medicines are still administered with a "one size fits all" approach.

Despite substantial improvements in the treatment of cancer, three out of 10 patients will still not survive longer than five years, due to either cancer progression or death from severe treatment-related side effects.

There is no field of medicine in which individualization of medicines is more important than in the area of oncology. There is large variability in how patients respond to many cancer medicines, which can result in either undertreatment that leads to cancer progression, or overtreatment that can have significant toxic side effects.

The concept of dose individualization means we can tailor the amount of a drug administered to an individual patient to maximize tumor response and minimize side effects. My focus will be to use computer-based modeling methods to identify dose individualization strategies for best treatment practice."

Dr. Stephanie Reuter Lange, University of South Australia

While the merits of individualized drug dosages are clear, conducting the large-scale clinical trials required to implement the treatment in practice is a complex and costly process which means cancer treatments currently on offer remain standardized rather than personalized.

Dr. Reuter Lange's work uses the science of mathematical and statistical models to characterize drug behavior, helping clinicians make an educated decision on the most appropriate treatment regimes.

"This work will provide an evidence-basis for dose individualization of cancer therapies, offsetting the need for the conduct of costly, large-scale clinical trials," she says.

"Ultimately this work will lead to improved patient outcomes and provide a framework on which treatment guidelines can be based for the optimal use of new and existing cancer therapies."

UniSA Professor Hoffmann's research project will focus on developing less intrusive diagnosis and treatment techniques for endometrial cancer, the most diagnosed gynecological cancer in Australia.

According to Professor Hoffmann, radiological imaging is unreliable in determining the stage of endometrial cancer, meaning the majority of patients have to undergo surgical staging (and removal of lymph nodes) even though the minority will actually have cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes (metastatic disease).

He says the Cancer Council SA funding will go towards identifying molecular tissue markers that indicate the presence of metastatic disease so that future patients may not need to undergo unnecessary radical surgery (Lymphadenectomy) to get an accurate diagnosis.

Established in 2011 Cancer Council's Beat Cancer Project is a collaboration between Cancer Council SA, the State Government, SAHMRI and the universities and providing research funding to improve the lives of all South Australians impacted by cancer. For more information on the project, go to cancersa.org.au/research/beat-cancer-project.

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