Sarcoma program

Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that originates in the connective tissue of the body, including fat, muscle, bone and cartilage. Sarcomas can develop anywhere in the body and are among the most common types of solid tumours in children. Most predominant in the paediatric and adolescent populations are sarcomas that arise in the bone (osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma) and muscle (rhabdomyosarcoma). Despite the use of aggressive multimodal treatments including polychemotherapy and surgery, survival rates for children with sarcomas have remained stagnant for the last four decades. Curative treatment, effective in 70% of patients, often leads to lifelong morbidity.

For the remaining 30%, there is no effective treatment and outcomes for patients with metastatic or relapsed disease are poor, there is a 5-year survival rate of less than 20%, representing a significant clinical challenge. Whilst molecular markers for disease prognosis at diagnosis are revolutionising the clinical treatment and outcomes of other paediatric cancer types, this approach is lacking in sarcomas. This highlights the urgent need for new and improved prognostic modalities and targeted therapies for this cancer type.

In this VPCC project, we will assess the diagnostic primary tumour samples of a clinically-defined cohort of sarcoma patients to determine molecular signatures predictive of therapeutic response, metastasis and survival outcomes. Identifying predictive markers of therapeutic response and survival would represent a major development in the field, and enable clinicuians to stratify patients by risk, and provide appropriate adaptations of therapy to minimise side effects and improve overall outcomes.

Group photo of the Cain lab team

Cain Lab


  • A/Prof Jason Cain – Hudson Institute of Medical Research
  • Prof David Eisenstat – The Royal Children Hospital/Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
  • Prof Jordan Hansford – South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute/The Women’s and Children’s Hospital of South Australia


  • Prof Michael Sullivan – The Royal Children’s Hospital

The Risk stratification – sarcoma program was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Victorian Cancer Agency,
the Medical Research Future Fund, the Children’s Cancer Foundation, the Isabella and Marcus Foundation and
the Australian and New Zealand Sarcoma Association.

risk stratification
risk stratification