Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s Dr Maja Divjak has developed an award-winning animation showing how an innovative new form of cancer treatment targets cancerous cells. Almost 20,000 Australians are diagnosed with a blood cancer each year and researchers at Peter Mac are using CAR T-cell therapy to genetically modify a patient’s blood cells to seek out and kill cancer including some blood cancers.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s Dr Maja Divjak has developed an award-winning animation showing how an innovative new form of cancer treatment targets cancerous cells.

Almost 20,000 Australians are diagnosed with a blood cancer each year and researchers at Peter Mac are using CAR T-cell therapy to genetically modify a patient’s blood cells to seek out and kill cancer including some blood cancers.

“T cells are naturally occurring white blood cells that form an essential part of the body’s immune system to target and destroy infected cells,” Dr Divjak, a biomedical animator at Peter Mac, said.

“CAR T-cell therapy separates the T-cells from a patient’s blood and re-engineers them in a laboratory by adding special structures called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to the surface of the T cells. The modified CAR T-cells are then reinjected into the patient where the specifically engineered receptors can help the T-cells to identify and attack cancer cells in the body.

“The prospect of removing your T-cells, genetically modifying them and putting them back into your system to fight cancer can seem a bit like science fiction and is potentially very frightening for many people.

“We have created a scientifically accurate 3D animation showing T-cells at work and how researchers at Peter Mac are able to change these T-cells so they kill cancer cells.

"The animation magnifies the cells about 8 million times, taking people to the actual cell surface to explain how cancer can evade the immune system and demonstrating how CAR T-cell therapy targets and kills the cancer cells.

“This animation is so helpful in depicting the science it won ‘Best of Show’ for the Science and the Health categories at the Doctors Without Borders Film Festival this year,” she said.

A/Prof Jane Oliaro, Group Leader in the Cancer Immunology Program at Peter Mac, said that while CAR T-cell therapy is proving very effective for some patients with blood cancer, more work is needed.

“My research is focused on improving CAR T-cell effectiveness by incorporating it with a small molecule drug that can directly kill the cancer cells and potentially boost the anti-cancer activity of the CAR T-cells at the same time,” A/Prof Oliaro said

“Unfortunately, some patients fail to respond to CAR T-cell therapy or relapse following treatment and some types of blood cancers haven’t responded as well to CAR T-cell therapy.

“We’re desperate to improve these response rates and have established a Centre of Excellence in Cellular Immunotherapy to help advance the outcomes we’re seeing through this promising treatment,” she said.

Contacts:

For more information contact the Peter Mac Communications team on 0417 123 048.

About Peter Mac

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is a world-leading cancer research, education and treatment centre and Australia’s only public health service solely dedicated to caring for people affected by cancer.