New field of targeted drug therapy the focus of research grant

May 13, 2014

New research which looks at a more effective and targeted delivery of drugs into tumours and avoids toxic side effects will be undertaken thanks to a Cancer Council Western Australia research grant.

Assistant Professor Juliana Hamzah from the Harry Perkins Research Institute has been awarded close to $100,000 to lead the one year project.

Asst/Prof Hamzah’s research project is looking at a new way to deliver cancer drugs directly into tumours which would limit the damage to normal healthy cells.

Currently, many cancer treatments such as chemotherapy are systemic, which means the drugs used are injected into the body and travel through the bloodstream to get to the cancer cells.

Systemic treatments are often ineffective because it can be difficult for the drugs to get to tumours in certain parts of the body, and because tumours form protective barriers that stop drugs getting inside to kill all the cancer cells.

Asst/Prof Hamzah said systemic treatments can also cause many toxic side effects because doses used are often high, and some drugs non-selectively damage healthy cells as well as the cancer.

“The idea is we want to be able to deliver a drug directly into the tumour so that it won’t affect normal tissue, which ultimately means more effective treatment with fewer side effects for the cancer patient,” Asst/Prof Hamzah said.

“The agent we’ve developed is initially targeting extra cellular matrix (ECM), a skeleton like structure in the tumour, which is a major component of the tumour. Tumour ECM presents in larger quantity and stiffer than normal tissue ECM, forming protective barrier that prevent drugs getting inside.

“Targeting tumour ECM is something new to WA and we hope it will lead to new combination therapies for cancer patients. Our aim will then be to develop other agents that target different cell types.

Asst/Prof Hamzah, who has been working in this field for eight years, said the Cancer Council grant has helped her to establish her targeted drug delivery research program in Perth after recently re-locating from the USA.

  “I think this type of research has great potential to contribute to better clinical practice which would in turn mean more effective treatment and improved outcomes for cancer patients.”

The grant is part of nearly $3.2 million in research funding announced by Cancer Council WA at a lunch sponsored by the Parmelia Hilton in Perth this week. A full list of the grants made can be viewed at

Cancer Council WA, a community funded organisation, is one of the largest funders of cancer research in the State through a peer reviewed grants scheme.

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