Monitoring a patient’s real-time response to a new immunotherapy


Lead Researcher: Professor John Rasko AO

Institution: Centenary Institute

Cancer Council NSW Funding: $448,850

Funding Duration: 2020 – 2022


Pancreatic cancer and asbestos-induced lung cancer (mesothelioma) both have poor five-year survival rates of less than 10% due to a lack of effective treatments. Over 3,300 and 700 new cases of pancreatic cancer and asbestos-induced lung cancer, respectively, are diagnosed in Australia each year. By 2030, pancreatic cancer is predicted to become our second leading cause of cancer death.

The Research

This project will complement a major Cancer Council NSW funded project in which Professor John Rasko and his research team are trialling a potential new treatment for pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma known as CAR T-cell immunotherapy. CAR T-cell immunotherapy has shown unprecedented success in patients with some blood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Professor Rasko’s project is the first in Australia to test this treatment approach in a solid tumour. 

In this project, Professor Rasko and his team will develop a way of monitoring the success or failure of standard treatments or CAR T-cell immunotherapy by collecting circulating tumour cells - cancer cells found in the bloodstream.  These rare cells may only be present at one in a billion other white blood cells are nonetheless easy to collect and can be repeatedly sampled throughout the course of treatment. The cells will be analysed in the laboratory not only to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment but also identify when and why treatment-resistance develops. The team can then use this information to develop strategies to address recurrent cancers.

The Impact

The project will positively impact the treatment a patient receives by monitoring an individual’s response to therapy and uncovering how the cancer cells become resistant to treatment.

This exciting new approach will provide the basis of predicting which patients will benefit from CAR-T cell immunotherapy in the future. The team hopes to extend this strategy to other cancer types and create a decision-making flow chart for clinicians to use when deciding which patients are eligible for immunotherapy.  


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