Finding cures for children's genetic diseases


$41m investment from government for ProCan

A $41m investment in the world-first proteomics project, ProCan®, has reaffirmed Australia’s reputation as an internationally recognised leader in cancer proteogenomics.

The Australian Federal Government and NSW State Government has announced they would award $20 million and $21 million, respectively, to an expansion of ProCan, which is run by Children’s Medical Research Institute and based at Westmead in Western Sydney.

ProCan is the world’s only research facility to focus on high-throughput, very large scale cancer proteomics and big data proteogenomics. ProCan aims to change the way cancer is diagnosed and treated by creating a digital atlas of proteins and genetics involved in cancers.

Although DNA mutations cause cancer, genome sequencing to identify mutations cannot be used to effectively diagnose all cancer types nor predict each cancer’s response to treatment. The ProCan  solution is to look beyond genomics to include proteomics. Proteins are produced by genes and play the key roles in cellular processes. Most cancer treatments that are effective generally act against the proteins.

Researchers will analyse thousands of proteins simultaneously in each sample of up to 70,000 cancers of all types from patient collections sourced worldwide, and will use advanced computational techniques to learn how to accurately diagnose and predict the most effective treatments for each person’s cancer. The analysis will combine genomic and proteomic information for the first time on a massive scale.

ProCan data scientists will develop and employ advanced machine learning tools to perform bioinformatics analyses of all the molecular (proteomic, genomic, and potentially other ‘omics) and clinicopathological data for each cancer sample, cross-comparing between individual cancers and across all cancer types.

The resulting ‘big data’ proteogenomic repository will then be used to develop new methods of cancer diagnosis and treatment planning that can give clinicians guidance about tailored decision-making for each patient’s cancer within 36 hours of a cancer sample being sent for testing.

Using this protoegenomics approach to understanding cancer has led to Children’s Medical Research Institute (and ProCan) signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States’ National Cancer Institute as part of former Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative. ProCan has spearheaded this proteogenomics movement and led to the creation of the International Cancer Proteogenome Consortium which includes 22 institutes across 11 countries.

ProCan relies on global collaboration and involves multidisciplinary teams across diverse fields, such as proteomics, cancer cell biology, oncology, cancer pathology, computer science, software engineering, data science and mathematics.

Data scientists and software engineers have already started the next phase of the project, employing advanced machine learning tools to perform bioinformatic analyses of the cancer’s entire molecular and clinicopathological data for each sample. Data will be stored in a huge online repository which will be made available to all researchers in future.

In its early stages, ProCan has already processed the proteome of more than 1,100 samples from 280 prostate cancer patients. It has detected 5,000 proteins per sample which is the largest set of cancer proteome data generated worldwide.