2022 Workforce Funding Recipients
Low-Survival Cancer Philanthropic Research Fellowships
Boosting the response to immunotherapy in lung cancer
Immunotherapy, where the immune system is harnessed to fight the cancer, has shown promise in non-small cell lung cancer but unfortunately not all patients respond to treatment. This significantly reduces treatment options and leads to dismal survival outcomes of as little as 6 months post-diagnosis. In this project, I will identify and test new combination therapies to boost the power of immunotherapy using sophisticated laboratory models of lung cancer and patient samples. This project will lead to the initiation of clinical trials and has the potential to result in new treatment options and improved survival for high-risk lung cancer patients.
Learning from survivors: profiling patients with extraordinary response and survival to improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer
A major challenge in the management of ovarian cancer is the development of aggressive, chemotherapy resistant disease. Despite having a poor prognosis, there are subsets of women with ovarian cancer who have exceptional responses to treatment and achieve long-term survival. To learn how these extraordinary women survive against the odds, we are applying computational methods to identify the unique characteristics of their tissue samples and testing the ability of these biomarkers to predict outcomes in independent clinical cohorts. This study is designed so that results can rapidly transform clinical management and improve survival of women with ovarian cancer.
mRNA vaccine technology to enable effective cancer immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer
An exciting cancer treatment, called immunotherapy, involves using the body’s own immune system to fight tumours. A very promising immunotherapy involves an injection of a patient’s own T immune cells that have been modified to have an anti-cancer molecule, called a CAR, on their surface. Some blood cancers can be cured using CAR T cells. Yet the responses are poor in solid cancers. In this proposal, we aim to develop a platform of novel mRNA vaccines that will enable CAR T cells to fight against pancreatic cancer. If successful, this project will provide a substantial breakthrough in pancreatic cancer treatment.
Evaluation of a novel diagnostic marker and therapeutic target for hepatocellular carcinoma
Primary liver cancer, a malignant tumour that starts in the liver, is now the third leading cause of cancer-related death globally. Due to the lack of valid approaches for early detection, ineffective therapeutic options, and a high rate of metastasis and recurrence, it remains a heavy burden for the community. We recently found a gene that is highly expressed in liver cancer and plays an essential role in cancer development. Based on these novel discoveries, this project will conduct translational research exploring the potential of this gene as a non-invasive biomarker and effective therapeutic target for liver cancer patients.
Early Career Research Fellowships (Biomedical)
Development of multiparametric multimodality imaging biomarkers for patients with brain and head and neck cancers
Radiotherapy plays a major role in the curative treatment of brain and head and neck cancers. There have been limited improvements in survival in these cancers in the past decade, partially due to limited understanding of tumour behaviour during radiotherapy. With newer radiotherapy technology such as the MR-Linac (an MRI integrated within a treatment machine), and novel tracers, we can now track tumour changes during radiotherapy to improve prognosis and disease understanding. I aim to characterise tumour dynamics (imaging and blood markers) during radiotherapy, and immune changes with novel therapies to improve disease understanding and adapt therapies to tumour behaviour.
A data-driven approach to identify and progress new therapeutic targets for paediatric cancers
Solid tumour cancers are the primary cause of death in children. While childhood cancers are biologically distinct from adult tumours, the treatments for these cancers were mostly developed for adult patients. Not surprisingly, such treatments don't work well and often cause significant damage. I propose to find cancer therapies tailored for children's cancer using child-specific cancer models. My project uses big data and artificial intelligence computational analyses to discover child-specific targeted therapies. I will then develop a web-based data portal to publicly share data that will aid in the development of new drugs and clinical trials for children with cancer.
Understanding the biological activity of heme in acute myeloid leukemia
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a devastating malignancy with few treatment options beyond chemotherapy. Targeting cancer metabolism has shown to be a promising therapeutic strategy to treat leukemia. This project aims to understand the role of heme metabolism in leukemia cells which we have found to be altered in AML. I aim to understand why heme is important in AML to develop more effective treatment options to treat AML and improve patient outcome.
Developing a new adoptive cell therapy for T cell lymphoma
T cell lymphomas are a group of blood cancers including peripheral T cell lymphomas and an aggressive cutaneous lymphoma (Sezary syndrome), which have a poor outcome. This project proposal aims to develop an immune based T cell therapy to specifically target the tumour cells by using universal donor T cells rather than patient's T cells as these patients have very few healthy T cells. We will test the universal donor cell therapy in the lab to study how effectively tumours are cleared. We expect this therapy will dramatically improve patient outcomes who currently have few treatment options.
Circulating tumour DNA and outcomes with Lutetium-PSMA therapy in advanced prostate cancer
Lutetium-PSMA (Lu-PSMA) is the most significant therapeutic development for advanced prostate cancer in the last decade. Despite this, there remains no way to identify who will respond to treatment or to identify the development of resistance. This research proposal details the use of a highly advanced liquid biopsy assay on serial blood samples collected from men receiving Lu-PSMA with the intent to profile the tumour genome and identify markers of response and resistance to this novel therapy. Such markers will significantly change the environment of prostate cancer therapeutics and improve the survival of men with advanced prostate cancer.
Enhancing Immunotherapy Response in Melanoma
Advanced melanoma is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. The treatment options are limited. Immune checkpoint inhibitors have led to great progress in recent years. Unfortunately, only half of the patients will respond. Currently, there is no reliable test in clinical practice to predict which patient will respond. Hence, a reliable test to detect responders earlier and easier is in urgent need. In addition, a better understanding of the underlying drug resistance mechanisms will help us to develop novel or combinations therapy to save the non-responsive patients. In this project, we are aiming to address these issues.
Early-Career Research Fellowships (Non-biomedical)
The PRO-Health Program: A co-designed remote-delivered PROstate-cancer specific healthy eating and exercise weight loss program for men treated with androgen deprivation therapy
This Fellowship has been endorsed by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, is consumer-driven, and focuses on making nutrition and exercise services available to all men treated with hormone therapy, which predispose men to weight gain and multiple chronic health issues. We will (i) co-design a web-based intervention (involving consumers and health professionals) that has a suite of educational material on healthy weight, nutrition and exercise, to support remotely-delivered dietitian and exercise physiologist video-consultations; (ii) evaluate the feasibility and preliminary efficacy of the intervention; and (iii) determine the acceptability, appropriateness, and sustainability of the intervention for future real-world implementation.
Development of a sustainable community-based physical activity and education program for cancer survivors
Australian cancer survivors experience a broad range of health issues that remain frequently unaddressed. Evidence supports that physical activity can improve the health of cancer survivors; however, there is little evidence regarding how to best promote and support physical activity for cancer survivors in the community. This research will utilise co-design with people who have had cancer, clinical staff, as well as health and community organisations to develop a community-based, physical activity program for cancer survivors. It will then assess the feasibility of this program, with emphasis on measures that can support program sustainability and scalability.
Mid-Career Research Fellowships (Biomedical)
Development of a new broadly applicable therapeutic strategy for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive group of blood cancers resulting from uncontrolled growth of immature blood cells in the bone marrow. Each year ~1000 Australians are diagnosed with AML, however less than 30% of patients will survive past five years. Improving outcomes for AML patients is an area of critical importance and unmet need. We have recently identified a critical new role for a protein called SNAI1 in more than half of all AMLs. In this project we will develop new strategies for treating AML patients based on inhibiting SNAI1 and its downstream mechanisms of AML development.
Integrating genetic and epigenetic data for prediction of prostate cancer aggressiveness and outcomes
Prostate cancer is the second most deadly cancer in men in Australia but it is currently challenging to predict which cases are likely to progress. In this project, I will use genome-wide genetic and epigenetic data measured in Australian men with prostate cancer who are part of an extensive epidemiological and clinical research resource. I will apply machine learning methods to these high-dimensional data and validate the findings in additional clinical datasets. This project will improve the molecular characterisation of prostate cancer and prediction of outcomes, which will permit better management of patients at diagnosis.
Developing new therapeutic approaches against advanced bowel cancer
Bowel cancer affects more than 3,500 Victorians each year and is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria. There is an urgent need to develop new therapeutic strategies to combat advanced bowel cancer. A master cancer cell population (called cancer stem cells) is suggested to fuel the tumour and resist common chemotherapeutic treatments. Our research project will identify the main mechanisms controlling cancer stem cell behaviour and leverage this knowledge to design new targeted therapeutic strategies.
Preventing emergence of therapy resistance in melanoma
Melanoma is the 3rd most common cancer in Australia, and despite new treatments, one Australian still dies from melanoma every 5 hours. This is in part because melanoma cells become resistant to therapy. Melanoma cells have a remarkable ability to change their physical characteristics, which allows their spread around the body, ability to resist therapies and to return post-treatment. For therapies targeting drivers of cancer, known as oncogenes, this ability to adapt contributes to therapeutic resistance. Understanding the mechanisms underlying therapy induced adaptation will provide new ways to prevent resistance and improve outcomes for melanoma patients.
Harnessing metabolomics in the detection and treatment of brain cancer
Brain cancer patients have a low survival rate, due to late detection and incomplete surgical resection. This research program aims to significantly improve each of these aspects through the detection of metabolites, the signalling molecules of cells. Metabolites will serve as brain cancer beacons in the blood (early/relapse detection) and in the brain (drug targets, surgical resection). This program of work has the power to revolutionise brain cancer treatment and significantly improve the quality of life and survival of brain cancer patients.