A Victorian cancer research centre has begun trials that holds out a glimmer of hope for more effective future cancer therapies.

The Ballarat Cancer Research Centre is investigating how the biology of cancer cells, particular to individual patients, plays a role in the effectiveness of drug treatment.

The centre’s director, Professor George Kannourakis told Neos Kosmos: “This chemo-sensitivity testing has never been proven in a randomised trialling before, this is the first time it’s been done.”

Professor Kannourakis, a recipient of the Pride of Australia Awards in 2009 in recognition of his significant contribution to the medical profession, says the pilot study “will reveal whether we can predict if patients are going to respond better to chemo-sensitivity testing from the laboratory versus conventional therapy.”

The trial, which will focus on lung cancer patients will take place at the Ballarat centre but may expand to the Royal Melbourne hospital. “We have chosen inoperable non-small cell lung cancer as a model for the trial,” says Professor Kannourakis.

“Although some improvements in the treatment of early stage lung cancer have occurred, the majority of patients still present with advanced (inoperable) disease.”

“At the moment we have preconceived ideas about what drugs to use for various cancers. What this trial involves is the testing of drugs that we normally don’t use for these cancers.”

Professor Kannourakis believes that the trial may hold the key to cancer treatment being far more tailored to an individual’s needs in the future. “The whole idea is to individualise therapy. We may find that there are patients out there that will respond to cheaper and useful drugs that we’re currently not using, and we might be able to identify the patients that will only respond to more expensive options.”

“First we’ll test methodology, then we will go to a much larger trial, where we’re looking at whether it’s going to improve survival rates, and how it might reduce the costs to the community by targeting the expensive drugs in a better way, that’s the key to the whole thing.”