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VMOs help cancer treatment development

Queensland’s Visiting Medical Officers (VMOs), through Queensland Health, today contributed $60,000 to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research to help spur on the development of experimental cancer “immunotherapy” treatments.

The donation has been collected through salary sacrificing made by the VMOs, and brings the total amount donated by the VMOs since 1999 to more than $200,000.

“QIMR has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to conduct Phase I, Phase II and Phase III clinical trials to test novel cancer treatments based on utilising the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer cells,” said QIMR Director Professor Michael Good.

“However, developing tailor-made cancer treatments costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and we are grateful for this donation from the AMAQ VMO Committee as we can now purchase equipment to fast-track this process.”

Health Minister Wendy Edmond said the VMO’s fund was a terrific gift with the potential for long term benefits.

“Research into cancer treatment is an important part of Queensland’s complex package of cancer prevention and treatment programs,” Ms Edmond said. “The donation from the VMOs is very much appreciated.”

QIMR cancer scientists have been involved in testing a new form of cancer “vaccine” to treat late stage melanoma patients by using the patient’s own cancer cells to prime dendritic cells harvested from the patient’s blood. The cells, once primed with their cancer antigens, are then injected back into the patient as a therapeutic vaccine over many months.

The results of this trial have shown a complete response rate that is durable and, to date, the best in the world – particularly as late stage melanoma has had no effective cure.

Currently each patient’s vaccine is tailor-made, which is very expensive and time consuming. QIMR scientists now want to conduct experiments to see if a generic vaccine could be made, which could then be delivered en masse and not be specific to an individual.

The VMO donation will be used to purchase an Inotech Cell Encapsulator which will enable reproducible encapsulation of live cells which have been changed to release specific proteins known as cytokines. These cytokines are responsible for modulating the immune system to recognise tumour cells and kill them.

QIMR scientists believe that immunotherapy has the potential to effectively treat many forms of cancer but this research can only be conducted with cutting edge technology combined with scientific skill.