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Corporate entry Cancer Research Unit (1965 - 1996)

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Victoria, Australia
Medical Research


The Cancer Research Unit, also called the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria Cancer Research Unit, was formally established in 1965 at the Hall Institute. Prior to this, all cancer research at the Institute was funded by the Victorian Anti-Cancer Council through its inaugural Carden Fellowship in 1954. By 1995 the Cancer Research Unit included the Donald Metcalf Carden Laboratory, the Developmental Haematology Laboratory, the JD & L Harris Laboratory for Molecular Regulators, the Molecular Haematology Laboratory and the Human Leukaemia Laboratory. The Unit was renamed the Cancer and Haematology Division in 1996. Over its thirty years the Unit played a major role in discovering colony stimulating factors (CSF) and demonstrating that almost all aspects of blood cell production are regulated by extracellular molecules called cytokines.


During the 1950s the Institute's main cancer research was on the changes, population dynamics and control of lymphoid cells from mice with leukaemia. Then in 1960s as the cancer research group expanded, the scope broadened to include studies of immunological competence in old age, the effect of thymectomy on lymphoid organs, and agar culture of bone marrow cells. However the Institute's most significant cancer research was on haemopoietic differentiation and proliferation. This work was in collaboration with Dr Bradley from the University of Melbourne and lead to the major discovery of "colony stimulating factors" (CSF) in 1963. Much of what is known about CSF today has come from the Units continued research in this field. The Unit, in collaboration with the Ludwig and Florey Institute, began developing transgenic (GM-CSF) mice around 1987.

By the 1990s the Unit began studying the interactions between growth factors and the CFS receptors and their encoding genes. They eventually identified two new receptors and seven CSF. Research also began to focus on the way in which signals from receptors reach the nucleus of cells, mediated by special nuclear transcription factors. One of these factors first described by the Unit was SLC, involved in human lymphoid leukaemia when functionally abnormal. The Unit also continued its involvement with the Royal Melbourne Hospital, monitoring patient progress in response to the administration of combinations of blood-cell growth factors, to identify the most suitable combinations for particular disease states. The Unit's secondary interests during this time were in the biology of plasma cell tumour development and in the monitoring of human myeloid leukaemia patients.

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Emily Geraghty & Annette Alafaci