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Robots play major role in tailoring treatment for kids’ cancers

September 2, 2016

Two specialised robots at the Children’s Cancer Institute in Sydney can now rapidly test hundreds of treatments for kids with high-risk cancers to guide their care. The robots work 24/7 at the ACRF Child Cancer Personalised Medicine Centre, which is one of only three drug discovery facilities in Australia.

The Centre will serve as the operational headquarters for the Zero Childhood Program, a national initiative to tackle the most serious cases of infant, childhood and adolescent cancer in Australia. The program is a collaboration between Australia’s most prominent childhood cancer clinicians, researchers and treating hospitals.

Originally designed to develop new drugs, the facility is being put to a new use in the quest to match the safest, most effective drugs to individual cancer patients’ treatment needs. By testing the efficacy of already-approved drugs and their combinations against each child’s unique cancer cells, the robots will help identify those most likely to kill their specific cancer.

Over the next four years, the Centre will receive and process hundreds of samples of patients’ tumours from partner children’s hospitals around Australia. The drug-screening data that the robots produce will form part of the reports that will go to clinicians, to guide treatment as part of the national clinical trial of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program which will open next year.

Professor Michelle Haber AM, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute, said the need for better treatment options is urgent.

“Every week in Australia, three children die of cancer. When standard treatments fail, these children have few options and little time.”

“The ACRF Child Cancer Personalised Medicine Centre is the centrepiece of the most comprehensive program ever assembled in this country to analyse children’s cancers with a suite of tests, including several advanced gene sequencing [or genomic] tests, as well as drug sensitivity tests to better tailor treatment to the child’s individual cancer.”

The AUD$ 1.5M grant received from Australian Cancer Research Foundation is also funding expanded tumour bank facilities, improved tissue culture capability, and a state-of-the-art data management system. The system will link the results of the tests conducted at Children’s Cancer Institute with the clinical data from patients being treated as part of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program at paediatric oncology facilities around the country.

The ACRF Child Cancer Personalised Medicine Centre was officially opened today by His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Images of Dr Anna Mariana, courtesy of the Children’s Cancer Institute.

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