Griffith University and the Gold Coast University Hospital are aiming to personalise cancer treatment to ensure patients receive the most effective drug the first time.

In collaboration with a multidisciplinary health team, researchers from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland, are establishing a new Personalised Cancer Treatment Program.

With an initial focus on head and neck cancer patients – for whom initial treatment has failed – the work will entail transplanting a small part of the malignant tumour into a mouse model, where it will grow and be monitored via ultrasound and live imaging, before it’s treated with varying drug therapies to determine which is most effective for the particular patient.

Program Director at Menzies Health Institute Professor Nigel McMillan says unfortunately most cancer therapies have significant side effects.

“We have very general treatments that are not specific to an individual’s type of cancer and these drugs are killing the good cells as well as the bad,” Nigel says.

“Although we have many new and interesting drugs, it’s hard to know which are the correct ones for a particular patient.

“By looking at the responses to different drugs on the tumour when it’s outside the patient and in a surrogate, we can investigate which cancers respond to which drugs and provide feedback to the clinicians.”

Taking advantage of the proximity of the University and the Hospital within the new Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, Professor McMillan says they’re aiming to work with 20 head and neck cancer patients by the end of the year.

“This will provide meaningful results to start a database of suitable treatments for specific human cancers allowing us to more rapidly prescribe the right drug every time,” he says.

Gold Coast Health Director of Oncology Dr Jasotha Sanmugarajah says the results of the research will prove invaluable for clinical staff and patients.

“This will eliminate the uncertainty we have in clinics determining which drug will work best with each patient’s particular cancer and avoid side effects and wasting time and money on incorrect drugs,” she says.

The work is initially on head and neck patients, but the concept potentially applies to many cancer types and there are talks of establishing a consortium with overseas organisations.