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New technology furthers cancer research

New technology crucial to supporting vital research into cancers has been secured by the University of Tasmania, thanks to the generosity of two bequests by Tasmanian women. The Cytek Aurora flow cytometer allows Tasmanian scientists to more than triple their capacity to understand how the immune system interacts with cancer cells.

"The immune system continually patrols the body for signs of disease, including cancer cells. If the immune system finds something abnormal, like a cancer cell, then the immune cell needs to decide to kill the cell or not," Dr Andy Flies from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research said.

The interaction between immune cells and cancers cells is extremely complex, and our previous technology allowed us to analyse only a few proteins at a time. Now, with the acquisition of the new technology, we’re able to look at more than 20 proteins simultaneously, which significantly advances and increases our research capacity into understanding how cancers work.

Dr Andy Flies

“The generosity of these bequests has brought state-of-the-art technology to Tasmania. We can now design our experiments around the question to be answered, rather than designing our experiments around outdated technology." 

Dr Flies studies cancer in people and Tasmanian devils, and suggests that learning about cancer in devils and other species can improve our understanding of human cancer. 

University of Tasmania Executive Director of Advancement Kate Robertson said the crucial piece of equipment was funded by two bequests from two visionary Tasmanians who have left legacies that will make a difference to the lives of many. 

“Dorothy Waters made a significant bequest to the University of Tasmania and her wish was that it would be used to fund research into childhood cancer,” Ms Robertson said.

“This year we were able to fulfill her wish and purchase the cytometer, which will accelerate and expand the research capabilities of scientists investigating paediatric brain cancer, among other diseases.”

Annie Bishop, who also left a gift in her Will, contributed to the purchase of the cytometer. Her bequest has also led to the establishment of four Annie Bishop PhD Scholarships in Cancer Research.

“We are so grateful for their generosity; their gifts have the potential to make a profound and lasting difference on the world,”

Kate Roberston

Dr Iman Azimi from the University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology said the new technology will enable his research group to better understand and identify the important genes and proteins in the progression of cancers. 

Leading the University’s cancer drug discovery research group, Dr Azimi’s team focuses on high-risk cancers including paediatric brain cancers. 

“These cancers are quite aggressive and can lead to children’s death. As part of our research we identify and target important proteins as future potential therapeutic targets,” he said. 

“The new flow cytometer now allows us to dig deeper into the molecular and cellular pathways of these cancers that we were not able to do before. 

“In particular, being able to characterise different proteins that are involved in the progression of paediatric brain cancers, which will assist in identifying new drug targets for treatment.”