Ballarat cancer researchers receive international acclaim

Professor Stuart Berzins at work in the research lab. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Professor Stuart Berzins at work in the research lab. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

GROUNDBREAKING research into how the human body’s immune system responds to cancer is under way at Ballarat’s Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute and it is already receiving international acclaim. 

Cancer researchers led by esteemed biomedical researcher Associate Professor Stuart Berzins are playing a pioneering role in changing the way cancer is treated.

The researchers were globally recognised for their studies of regulatory immune cells, after Associate Professor Berzins published a primary research article on the group’s studies in the international medical journal Nature Review Immunology. 

The article is now being used across the world to improve understanding of how human immune responses against cancer are regulated. 

“We look at cancer in two different ways,” Associate Professor Berzins said. “Our objective is to cure cancer and to find new ways to treat it. You can look at the cancer itself and try and find better ways to treat or kill cells. But the other way involves looking at the immune system and trying to teach it to better attack cancer and to use it in a therapeutic sense so that doctors can prescribe treatments that don’t act on cancer but release the immune system to then attack the cancer.”

He said some of the most promising treatments for melanoma and lung cancer were now focused on releasing a brake on the immune system to allow it to attack the disease.

“Cancer is a tricky disease in that it is not simply that the cells are damaging the body but that they are also acting on the immune system to actively suppress it,” he said. “If we can find out how that suppression is occurring and release that brake on the immune system, you’re basically allowing the immune system to do what it really wants to do, which is attack cancer and cure the disease.” 

Part of the research involves comparing healthy immune systems to the immune systems of cancer patients.

Director of the research centre Professor George Kannourakis said the work being undertaken in Ballarat was of global importance.

He said Associate Professor Berzins’s understanding of immunology had been pivotal and was leading in this type of cancer treatment internationally. 

“By providing opportunities for researchers like Stuart to join our efforts we enhance the reputation of Ballarat as a place for sharing knowledge and that’s incredibly valuable.”

The work of Associate Professor Berzins is also supported by Dorevitch Pathology who contribute to the cost of continuing his research at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute and Federation University.

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