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Unlocking The Secrets Of Cancer Cells

The secrets of cancer cells are now being unlocked at The New Children's Hospital, Westmead, thanks to the acquisition of leading edge technology - the latest confocal microscope, which is the first of its kind in Australia.

The Hon. Gabrielle Harrison MP, Member for Parramatta, will launch the Confocal Microscope Facility at The New Children's Hospital at 10am on Monday 31st July.

The purchase of this state of the art equipment is a remarkable example of community co-operation. At a cost of $500,000 the confocal microscope was purchased with funds donated entirely by individuals and members of the corporate world over a 2-year period.

Thirty years ago 75% of children with cancer died. Advances in research have meant that currently 75% of children with cancer survive. While a great advance, one in four children with cancer still die despite available therapy.

Cancer cells develop from normal cells that no longer respond to signals to stop growing. They change their shape and the way they interact with their environment. For researchers to understand how these changes in shape take place it is necessary to look at the overall architecture of a cell.

The confocal microscope allows researchers to better understand the architecture of cancer cells by providing a 3D image of cancer cells. By unlocking the secrets of the cancer cells researchers are confident the cure rate for childhood cancer will be increased even further.

The confocal microscope allows a three dimensional image of a cell to be produced in a matter of minutes. It uses a laser to cut each cell into small sections. This results in a detailed internal picture of a series of sections. The computer and image analysis system combines the images to create a 3D picture of the organisation of each cell.

Prof Peter Gunning, Head of the Oncology Research Unit at The New Children's Hospital said, "The confocal microscope is revolutionising the way that researchers look at living and non living specimens. My staff and I are very excited about this machine, because it is going to greatly speed up the progress of our research. The confocal microscope will help unlock the structure of cells. This will significantly improve our understanding of the mechanisms that underpin cancer which will lead to better identification of tumour types and improved diagnosis."

The implications of this technology are broader than for cancer alone. The equipment will be used for medical research by other departments at The New Children's Hospital as well as the Children's Medical Research Institute, Westmead Hospital and the Millennium Institute.

Through this application the confocal microscope has the potential to make a major contribution to a wide array of medical research projects, which include virology, muscle disease, adult cancer, embryology, liver disease and brain structure.

This equipment allows researchers to embark on experiments that previously they could only dream about.

Two young people who are currently undergoing treatment for cancer will be at the launch with their families. They represent the many patients who we hope will benefit from this technology.

For more information please contact:
Madeleine O'Rourke in PR on 9845 3580 or 9845 3364.


This document was released on Tuesday, 25 July, 2000

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