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New robotic platform to aid rapid drug discoveries

robotA new robotic system was developed to help create and discover new drugs needed to battle cancer and other diseases.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation’s (ACRF) $2 million grant, which was awarded in 2015, paved way to provide the equipment to screen native homegrown plants needed for anti-cancer properties.

The Australian National University (ANU), the ACT Minister for Health and ACRF launched the innovative discovery recently.

The High Throughput Robotic Target and Drug Discovery Screening Platform was created at the ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics at The John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU.

“This is an exciting time for research collaboration across the ACT. The multi-million dollar equipment will cut screening times from years to months,” said professor Hannan, head of the ACRF Department of Cancer Biology and Therapeutics at the university.

Hannan said the new technology would further increase research collaboration and lead to more rapid drug discoveries to help fight against cancer and other diseases. ACRF chief executive officer professor Ian Brown said it was inspiring to see researchers at ANU playing an important part in pushing cancer research forward.

“With the funding from the ACRF, a private foundation supported by community members who are interested in advancing cancer studies, researchers can work towards tangible treatments that will benefit future patients,” Professor Brown said.

The specialised robotics and precision instruments will also enable researchers to test possible drug compounds against hundreds of disease cells, to find the best possible treatment for patients.

Until now, researchers in the ACT travel to Sydney or Melbourne to use similar machines. They would also need to stay for months during the testing. Hannan said the technology could give new hope to patients with diseases that have failed all standard therapies and who have no other options.

“We now have the potential to repurpose drugs, testing against more than 4,000 drugs in the FDA drug library that have been approved for use in humans to treat disease,” he said.

Hannan also mentioned in the case of cancer, researchers will be able to take bone marrow and tumour cells, grow them in culture and screen every known compound currently approved for use in humans against the cell lines — to see if one could be used to treat the patient.

“In one to two weeks we could identify existing drugs, repurpose them for new treatments, and rapidly set up trials,” he elaborated.

The Target and Drug Discovery Platform is set up at JCSMR with the support of the ACRF and ACT Health.

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