Mark Cowley and Marina Pajic top-ranked applicants for Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships

Dr Marina Pajic and Dr Mark Cowley from Garvan were awarded Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships this year, each ranked as top applicant in their category, a Career Development Fellowship and Early Career Fellowship respectively.
Mark Cowley and Marina Pajic top-ranked applicants for Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships

Dr Mark Cowley and Dr Marina Pajic with Associate Professor Mary Haines (centre), Director of Strategic Research Investment at CINSW

08 April 2014

Dr Marina Pajic and Dr Mark Cowley from Garvan were awarded Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships this year, each ranked as top applicant in their category. Associate Professor Mary Haines, Director of Strategic Research Investment at CINSW, presented them with certificates this week to honour their achievement.

Mark Cowley is one of twenty researchers from various universities and research institutes across the State to receive an Early Career Fellowship. Marina Pajic is one of four researchers to receive a Career Development Fellowship.

Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships provide salary and project support to enable researchers to undertake independent research in cancer that is nationally and internationally competitive.

Marina Pajic leads a research group with an interest in developing new ways to treat pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer death. The molecular make-up of pancreatic tumours varies greatly, with different combinations of thousands of genetic mutations possible. Some tumour subtypes can be targeted with known drugs.

Marina will be testing therapies, in models of operable and metastatic pancreatic cancer, which target specific molecular aberrations. Her aim is to help clinicians personalise treatment based on the biology of a patient’s tumour.

Mark Cowley is a bioinformatics expert who will be combining his cancer genomics expertise with the expertise of colleagues who will create animal models of breast cancer. Mark will study tumour progression in those models by regularly extracting DNA from blood, sequencing the DNA, and running algorithms—which he will develop—to analyse the results.

During normal cell death, short fragments of DNA are shed into circulating blood, and can be detected in plasma. Mark hypothesises that it will be possible to identify the presence of tumours in the body at very early stages of cancer, using the latest powerful genome sequencing technologies.

These experiments could provide preclinical development of a sensitive diagnostic tool, which would be useful for early detection of disease or tumour relapse.