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New methods take us closer to targeted, personalised cancer treatment

First "Donau Symposium" – MedUni Vienna experts identify new interdisciplinary therapy and diagnosis options
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(Vienna, 26 September 2016) It is not only tumours and metastases that differ in each type of cancer and each individual sufferer but also receptors in cells. It is therefore important to stop thinking of diagnostic methods such as molecular imaging and pathology, data analysis and ultimately clinical pharmacology for the development of new drugs as being separate from each other but instead to combine the individual specialisms and their methods – with the aim of increasing response rates to effective, personalised cancer treatments. This was emphasised by experts from MedUni Vienna on the occasion of the first "Donau Symposium", a forum for the interdisciplinary development of cancer treatments that will take place in the Van Swieten Hall of the Medical University of Vienna from Wednesday to Friday.

This interdisciplinary approach is already being practised at MedUni Vienna to find targets for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Molecular imaging at the Division of Nuclear Medicine, in which drugs, for example, are marked and "glow" in the cell, can be used to show whether a drug is really working and if it has reached its target. So-called "liquid biopsies” also allow detailed characterisation of tumour cells from a blood sample.

"Using a combination of the two methods, we are in a much better position to represent the great heterogeneity of tumour cells and their specific characteristics. This means that diagnostics are much more target-oriented than ever before," says Markus Zeitlinger of MedUni Vienna's Department of Clinical Pharmacology. Moreover, both methods are minimally invasive.

Positive side-effect: the number of non-responders (patients who do not respond to a drug that is used) is reduced. “For reasons of health economics as well, the aim is to reduce this number to zero at some point," explains Marcus Hacker of MedUni Vienna's Division of Nuclear Medicine. Apart from nuclear medicine and pharmacology, oncology, health economics, pathology and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Applied Diagnostics are also involved in a collaborative partnership with MedUni Vienna. "It is precisely this combination of liquid biopsy and targeted molecular imaging that the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute is developing," says Director Marcus Mitterhauser, a radiopharmacist at MedUni Vienna.

Close collaboration between research and industry
The Donau Symposium, which is taking place for the first time, aims to promote precisely these cross-disciplinary concepts on an international level. "We hope that the symposium will offer a forum for experts from science and industry in the fields of molecular pathology, nuclear medicine and clinical pharmacology, as well as oncology, with the aim of discovering effective individualised treatment concepts," says Markus Zeitlinger.

This close collaboration between research and industry is also anchored in the plans for the Vienna General Hospital MedUni campus up to the year 2025: It is hoped that firms – ranging from start-ups, through innovative SMEs, to national and international industrial concerns – will establish themselves in MedUni Vienna's planned Technology Transfer Center. Says Zeitlinger: "This proximity will benefit everybody: the firms themselves, MedUni Vienna and especially the patients, because it will facilitate and therefore speed up joint research and development."

Cancer: 5-year survival rate is increasing
In Austria, there are around 39,000 new cancer cases every year. The mortality rate from cancer is falling: it has fallen by 1.8% since the year 2000. Nevertheless, around 20,000 Austrians a year die from cancer. Over the same period, the relative 5-year survival rate rose from 44% to 61%. The successful cancer research conducted in the Comprehensive Cancer Center of MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital has brought about massive improvements in the outlook for patients. However, it is expected that personalised therapeutic approaches will bring significant further improvements in the near future.

Event: Donau Symposium
The first Donau Symposium on the subject of "Applied Diagnostics for Effective Cancer Treatment" will be held in the Van Swieten Hall of MedUni Vienna from 28 - 30 September. This specialist symposium brings together top international researchers from many disciplines and representatives from industry. Thomas Beyer, Gerda Egger, Marcus Hacker, Lukas Kenner, Oliver Langer, Markus Mitterhauser, Shahrokh Shariat, Wolfgang Wadsak and Markus Zeitlinger from MedUni Vienna are on the organising committee. The symposium will be opened on 28 September 2016 (18:00 hrs) by the Rector of MedUni Vienna, Markus Müller.
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