A groundbreaking new cancer treatment that uses radioactive agents to find and destroy tumours could soon be helping a large number of patients across Australia.

Sydney researcher Professor Philip Hogg has been awarded more than $3.7 million from the Cancer Institute to broaden the use of theranostics, which has shown the most promise in diagnosing and treating advanced prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumours.

Professor Hogg heads up the new theranostics project at Sydney’s Centenary Institute, and the funding will be used to apply this technique to all solid tumours that have spread. Theranostics uses PET scan imaging to see whether specific markers on the surface of the tumour are present or not. Then, a radioactive drug is injected in order to find and destroy the tumours identified in the scan.

Professor Hogg said they have invented a molecule that latches onto dead and dying tunour cells, which the radioactive agent can target. He explained, “The theranostic we’ve developed should target all types of tumours, not just specific ones, and it’s also designed so it becomes substantially more effective with each administration rather than less effective.”

Patients in Sydney have taken part in diagnostic trials, which have been promising, with Professor Hogg saying the “data looks terrific”. There are plans to test the treatment on patients within the next two years. Harder to treat tumours, like those in the pancreas, liver, and bowel, are likely to be targeted first.

The funding announcement came as part of the NSW government’s $21 million boost for cancer research through the Cancer Institute NSW. Health Minister Brad Hazzard emphasised the need for the research, saying, “One person continues to die of cancer in our state every 30 minutes.

“This funding promises new clinical trials for emerging cancer treatment within five years.”

Image: Thana Prasongsin

This article first appeared on Over60.