ProCan: how a database of cancer proteins may transform treatment

6 November 2019
University researchers compiling an international cancer database
Why does a cancer treatment work for one person and fail for another, even if it's the same type of cancer? The fact is, the same cancers can have different protein signatures. ProCan's aim is to use this insight to select the best treatments.
researcher in laboratory

A world-first project of its kind, ProCan® is led by University of Sydney researchers at Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI). It aims to transform cancer treatment and cancer survival rates.

Cancer is a complex disease. A treatment plan that works for one person may not work for another. ProCan® aims to pinpoint exactly the right treatment for individual cancer patients by gathering from around the world, thousands of cancer samples where treatment outcomes are already known, to use for comparison and prediction. 

Most cancer treatments work by attacking the proteins in cancers. But what may seem like a "standard" cancer can have a different protein signature from another person’s cancer of the same type, meaning a previously successful treatment might not work.

Analysing an individual cancer's protein signature could be key to knowing the best treatment to use, or just as importantly, what treatments will not be effective.

University of Sydney researchers on the ProCan® team have analysed the protein signatures of 10,000 samples so far, with an eventual goal of 50,000.

The technology that makes this possible is called mass spectrometry, which works by measuring the mass or size of very small parts of the proteins. Using specially developed computer software, the researchers interpret the collected information to work out what the protein is. 

The ProCan® lab currently has six mass spectrometer machines analysing samples 24 hours a day, seven days a week, helping take the researchers to the 50,000 goal.

What this work could lead to is a not-too-distant future where a newly diagnosed patient will have their cancer compared to those on the database to find others with a similar protein composition. Once a connection is made, a targeted personal treatment plan can be put together. All this could happen within 72 hours.

The plan is to make this remarkable resource accessible to oncologists around the world, helping cancer patients wherever they are.

The ProCan® project is ambitious and game-changing. And as the protein profiles of tens of thousands of cancers are studied, our researchers get ever closer to their goal – giving cancer patients the opportunity to receive the treatment that is right for them, right from the start.

At the University of Sydney our researchers are tackling the world’s greatest problems. 86 research programs have been supported by the generosity of our donor community. Donate today to support this project.

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