The National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia, has announced a huge $27.5 million grant towards cancer research.
The allocation will enable Australian scientists to join an international research team working on the possible genetic factors behind the world's most common cancers.
The Australian arm of the 24-nation International Cancer Genomics Collaboration will be based at the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience which, in 2007, obtained two new-generation DNA sequencers.
At the time, it was the first research facility outside the US to have two of the $800,000 machines. They can process the information for an entire human genome in two weeks, compared with the more than 12 years taken to decode human DNA for the first time, just four years ago.
The worldwide collaboration will study DNA from 25,000 patients to track down what mutations cause the 50 most common cancers. The Australians will focus on two: pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer. These are the fifth and sixth most lethal cancers for Australian women respectively, while pancreatic cancer is the sixth most lethal for men. The two cancers kill 3000 Australians a year.
The director of the Australian program, Sean Grimmond, said samples would be taken of 370 pancreatic tumours and 150 ovarian tumours. The DNA from the cells would be compared with DNA from healthy cells to work out how the mutations causing the cancer began and progressed.
Samples of the pancreatic cancers would be collected by Andrew Biankin at Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the NSW Pancreatic Cancer Network, while the ovarian cancer samples would be provided by David Bowtell from Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
"The reason it's exciting is that research to date has only looked at one gene at a time," Associate Professor Grimmond said. "We are now getting to the point where we can do a complete DNA survey, and understand the factors that are promoting uncontrolled growth within the tumour.
"If we know which genes are the key suspects in driving a cancer, we can target a drug specifically at that."
Announcing the grant yesterday, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the program would "accelerate efforts to develop better ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing many types of cancer".
NHMRC chief executive Warwick Anderson said the program had "great ambition," Australian newspaper reported.
"Now we really have this glimpse that we will be able to map what goes wrong in these 50 most common cancers, and that next generation of therapies that we have been hoping for (will become a reality)."