Health: Game-changing research gives new hope to patients with cancer and other diseases

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BIG money, big science, big building — but for South Australians in dire need, the biggest deal coming to North Tce is a whiz-bang machine that can destroy inoperable cancers.

The southern hemisphere’s first Proton Therapy Unit will deliver intense radiation directly to tumours without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

Powerful proton beams will target cancerous tissues within millimetres of vital organs without collateral damage, even when there is slight movement such as breathing.

At present, people needing such treatment have to go overseas at huge cost — federal subsidies are available and government sends a small number of patients to America, Japan or Europe for proton therapy every year.

However, for some people the choice to save a loved one’s life can mean mortgaging the home.

The Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research will be based in the $240 million SAHMRI 2 building, due to open in 2020.

It will stand next to the flagship South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) building in the multi-billion dollar SA Biomedical Research Precinct.

The Federal Government has committed $68 million to the project and the State Government $44 million.

The unit’s particle accelerator will occupy an underground concrete bunker and the 14-storey building will house some 400 researchers with space for industry partners.

The unit is expected to attract patients from across Australia, Asia and the Pacific, treating around 800 people a year, further cementing Adelaide’s reputation as a centre of medical excellence.

While there has been some controversy over the tender process and the project is behind schedule, officials are confident the proton beam therapy will dramatically improve cancer treatment and also be a valuable research tool.

Associate Professor Michael Penniment from the University of Adelaide’s Department of Radiation Oncology said the unit is a precise way of delivering radiation therapy.

“Proton therapy allows us to define where the beam stops in a patient and avoid critical

tissues,” he said.

It seems fitting that Adelaide will be the home of the southern hemisphere’s first proton therapy unit.

William Bragg and his son Lawrence working at Adelaide University in 1915 discovered the Bragg Peak, which is the fundamental principal of proton therapy and the reason why protons can miss important tissues.

“In Australia, around 600 to 800 patients a year would benefit significantly from proton therapy.

“Proton therapy units are expensive but, once purchased, the accelerator in Adelaide will have three rooms, treat over 1000 people per year and be fully operational for more than 20 years.”

Brad Crouch, Medical Reporter

Haematologist Prof Tim Hughes, SAHMRI’s Cancer Theme Leader. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Camera IconHaematologist Prof Tim Hughes, SAHMRI’s Cancer Theme Leader. Picture: Tricia WatkinsonPicture: News Limited

SAHMRI’s Professor Timothy Hughes wins prestigious national award for cancer research

PROFESSOR Timothy Hughes heads a team of researchers that is pioneering new treatment options — and hope — for people living with chronic myeloid leukaemia.

Based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute as its cancer theme leader, Prof Hughes has just won the prestigious GSK Award for Research Excellence for his work in transforming the lives of patients with CML.

He was recognised for exploring the use of tyrosine kinase inhibitors, or TKIs, an oral targeted therapy that specifically inhibits the overactive enzymes in the cells and kills the cancer.

“I came to Adelaide in 1993 to set up a research lab in CML,” Prof Hughes said.

“The ’90s was a frustrating period: we made some headway in research but, for (CML) patients, we made very little headway and nearly all died within three to five years.”

Now, with the help of his research and the use of TKIs, Prof Hughes said the prognosis for CML had drastically improved.

“If a patient presents to me today with CML, there is still a risk the disease can progress to the acute phase (that is) universally fatal,” he said.

“But that risk is only about five to 10 per cent and there are many patients on the whole, we expect them to have a normal survival. (And) patients have remained in remission.”

Because of the huge and relatively fast headway in CML research, Prof Hughes said the field had been “very satisfying” to work in.

I am very proud of what the team here in Adelaide have achieved

“I came to Adelaide from Sydney because Adelaide had the best structure for allowing a clinician to do dedicated research.

“It wasn’t easy to do in Sydney and I was very happy I made that decision — the benefits are very clear.”

Now Prof Hughes, who also heads the University of Adelaide’s Beat Cancer Project, said his team’s goal was to apply “what we’ve learnt in CML to many other diseases”, including childhood leukaemia.

Katrina Stokes

UNISA will use a $1 million research pledge to develop new drugs in the fight against the deadly glioblastoma.
Camera IconUNISA will use a $1 million research pledge to develop new drugs in the fight against the deadly glioblastoma.Picture: News Limited

Deadly brain tumours prompt $1 million research pledge

UNISA will use a $1 million research pledge to develop new drugs in the fight against lethal brain tumours.

The cash injection from the Neurosurgical Research Foundation will help the University of South Australia’s leading brain cancer researcher, Professor Stuart Pitson, further his research into glioblastoma, a highly malignant and the most commonly diagnosed brain tumour in adults.

Brain cancer kills more adults under 40 than any other cancer, kills more children than any other disease, and takes about one life every seven hours in Australia.

People diagnosed with glioblastoma have a very poor prognosis, including a median survival rate of 15 months, and just 5 per cent of patients will still be alive after five years.

Prof Pitson and his team in the Centre for Cancer Biology have identified the defect in the glioblastoma cells that appears to cause the cancerous tumour to grow rapidly and become resistant to chemotherapy.

“It is essential that we are doing all that we can, and as quickly as we possibly can, to find more effective treatments for glioblastoma so we can increase patient prognosis from months to years,” he said.

NRF board member Dr Cindy Molloy, also a leading Adelaide neurosurgeon, said more research into the cause, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of brain tumours was “critically important”.

“On the front line of this disease, we are all too aware of trauma caused to patients and their loved ones,” she said.

“When faced with a devastating disease, such as a brain tumour, every moment spent with loved ones is incredibly precious.”

Katrina Stokes

The SAHMRI building is already full. Pictue: Russell Millard/AAP
Camera IconThe SAHMRI building is already full. Pictue: Russell Millard/AAPPicture: News Corp Australia

Health — a huge growth industry for South Australia’s future

HEALTH is one of South Australia’s biggest growth industries that will continue to create jobs and boost the economy, a health expert says.

Professor Steve Wesselingh, executive director at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, headed the opening of the state’s first flagship health and medical research institute SAHMRI in 2012.

The formula has been so successful, there are plans to open a SAHMRI 2 on the North Tce site by 2020.

Prof Wesselingh said the state’s growing reputation will attract big health players but also provide opportunities for South Australia’s best and brightest researchers, scientists and health professionals.

“Both the institution of SAHMRI and also the building and even the rest of the (biomedical) precinct plays a big role in helping attract really good researchers and keep really good researchers here,” he said.

“I was recently overseas talking in Cambridge and London and they said exactly the same thing … that buildings like SAHMRI played an enormous role in keeping and attracting people both to research but also to the place (Adelaide).”

Prof Wesselingh said South Australia was proving collaboration between its three major universities — the University of Adelaide, UniSA and Flinders University —- and SAHMRI had been a success.

“South Australia is too small to have all the players competing with each other — we’ve got to compete with everyone else (in the nation and the world),” he said.

If we can work together … you can have the best and brightest working together — that’s how you succeed in medical research.

Prof Wesselingh said plans to build a SAHMRI 2 was “probably two or three years ahead of our plan”.

“SAHMRI 2, we’re obviously thinking about it pretty early but it really is because SAHMRI is full — the building is full,” he said.

“Our turnover, our growth, our impact is probably ahead of schedule.”

When it is complete, said Prof Wesselingh, the new building would attract companies from across the nation — and the world.

“There will be space in the building for other companies to come into the precinct (such as) biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical companies,” he said.

And the city’s West End multi-billion biomedical precinct was the ideal site for “someone like Siemens”, due to the proximity with the new $2.3 billion Royal Adelaide Hospital.

“What I think is important (is) a line of sight to the health impact they’re looking at,” Prof Wesselingh said.

“Being on the precinct, the health researchers will also see the healthcare delivery because the hospital is right there.”

Katrina Stokes

Dr Phil Tideman, centre, with nurse Claudine Clark, right, monitors the ECG heart rate on screen of Paul Simpson, left, who is wearing a heart rate monitor. Picture: Roy Vandervegt/AAP
Camera IconDr Phil Tideman, centre, with nurse Claudine Clark, right, monitors the ECG heart rate on screen of Paul Simpson, left, who is wearing a heart rate monitor. Picture: Roy Vandervegt/AAPPicture: News Limited

Plan to harness Artificial Intelligence for health

THERE’S Big Brother and Big Data: South Australia is about to get “Big Doctor”, a cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) that analyses health and intervenes when it spots something amiss.

The Australian-first digital health platform will automatically and continuously analyse data put into the health system from hospital tests and even tests done at home — and alert human doctors if it finds a problem that needs early intervention.

The Hospital 4.0 initiative will harness wearable and point-of-care devices to monitor real-time patient health and link patients to health service providers and care options.

The Federal Government has awarded a $340,000 grant to a team of Country Health SA clinicians and South Australian IT experts to develop the plan, starting with rural cardiovascular patients.

Former head of SA Health, Ray Blight, is involved through the medical technology company he chairs, Alcidion Group Limited, and says it has potential to halve demand for hospital beds.

“The greatest first-world killer behind heart disease and cancer is avoidable errors in health care delivery,” Mr Blight said.

“A key focus of Hospital 4.0 will be monitoring patients’ clinical risk data for signs that something is going wrong so that an early intervention can correct the situation.”

The AI system would automatically seek additional health information from the patient if required, such as blood pressure, weight and even blood analysis, recommend escalation of care if needed, and ensure the treating health professional has access to real-time guidance about the patient’s condition and medical history.

“Our task now is to develop commercial pathways and implement a pilot program to prove this innovation in South Australia before taking it to the world,” Mr Blight said.

“Our initial clinical focus will be to support cardiovascular services in regional and remote South Australia but the infrastructure will be commercially scalable to other chronic diseases and across Australia and beyond.”

Brad Crouch

3-D metal printers for medical devices

ADELAIDE’S medical industry will be turbocharged with the southern hemisphere’s most advanced 3D metal printing facility.

The University of Adelaide will establish the Additive Manufacturing Applied Research Network, providing access for local companies to manufacture parts for the medical device and defence industries.

The facility at Century Engineering at Edinburgh North will house three 3D printers — one will be solely used for medical device manufacturing.

It will be the only metal additive manufacturing centre in Australia available to companies on a commercial basis.

A $1.4 million State Government grant will fund the facility, and the network will establish a plastics 3D printing facility at Munno Para.

Manufacturing and Innovation Minister Kyam Maher said transforming the economy depends on establishing advanced technologies.

University of Adelaide Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Julie Owens said the facility has been born out of three years’ work by the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing and the Optofab Australian National Fabrication Facility.

“Clients who use our current small 3D metal printing facility have had to go overseas to get access to larger printers for manufacture of products,” she said.

“The new facility will enable many advanced manufacturing projects in defence, medical

devices, dental prostheses and injection moulding to be undertaken in Adelaide.”

Brad Crouch

SMART SA SPECIAL REPORTS

#1: The visitor economy: Bringing SA to the world

#2: Defence: The $90bn boost that will transform SA

#3: Innovation: Tonsley, a playground for creative thinkers

#4: Agriculture/aquaculture: DNA tracking protects our produce

#5: Health: Game-changing research into serious diseases



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