Annual awards celebrate key Garvan researchers

Garvan congratulates Dr Thomas Cox, Dr Simon Junankar, Dr Romain Rouet and Dr Sean Warren, winners of the annual Ridley Ken Davies Award, CHAMP Young Pioneer Award and the Palmer Innovation Prize.

Dr Wolfgang Jarolimek, Dr Thomas Cox, Dr Simon Junankar, Dr Romain Rouet and Dr Sean Warren

09 May 2017

Dr Thomas Cox, Leader of Garvan’s Matrix and Metastasis Group within the Cancer Division, was awarded the 2017 Ridley Ken Davies Award. The Award is in honour of much-loved Ridley employee Ken Davies who sadly passed away from cancer in 2015, and is closely aligned with Ridley’s values to support employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where we operate. The award of $50,000 is given to a Garvan researcher or research team to advance medical research, with an emphasis on building strong and sustained communities. 

For this reason, applicants for the Ridley Ken Davies Award were asked to use the Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiological Study (DOES) cohort to answer important questions in any of Garvan’s major areas of research.

Dr Cox’s winning project, in collaboration with Pharmaxis Pharmaceutical Ltd, a Sydney-based pharmaceutical company will use serum samples collected over 25 years as part of DOES, and will look at the level of two enzymes that have been linked to the development and progression of breast cancer.

“This pilot study will allow us to assess whether these two enzymes, which have been linked to the presence of, and poor outcomes in breast cancer, can be used as an early indicator of the disease, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment,” explained Dr Cox.

He added, “Thank you to Ridley for this award.  It allows my team and I to ask a question that would otherwise not be possible.  While we know that these enzymes are detected when a patient has breast cancer, no one has asked whether they can be used as early indicators, ie before clinical signs develop. The DOES samples are a unique worldwide resource that allows us to directly answer this question.

“Working together with Pharmaxis Pharmaceutical Ltd, world leaders in the field of amine oxidases will allow us to maximise the use of these unique samples from the Garvan DOES cohort.”

Dr Simon Junankar, Senior Research Officer in Garvan’s Cancer Division was awarded the 2017 CHAMP Young Pioneer Award. The award, presented annually by CHAMP Private Equity, aims to assist an early-mid career researcher to test an innovative research idea. 

Dr Junankar will use the award to understand why some cancer patients experience accelerated tumour growth following immunotherapy treatment.

He said, “Immunotherapies are proving to be successful treatments for some forms of cancer, however a small percentage of patients actually experience tumour growth following immunotherapy.  At this stage, we don’t understand why this happens, and we can’t predict which patients will be affected.  The aim of my research is to determine the mechanisms behind this accelerated tumour growth. I then hope to use this information to identify biomarkers that could be used to pre-screen patients, so that clinicians can know in advance if a patient is likely to respond poorly to this treatment.”

Dr Junankar sincerely thanks CHAMP Private Equity for this award.  He explains, “It is unlikely that I would have been able to prioritise this project without this award. I would have either been unable to initiate this project at all, or it would have been significantly delayed.”

This year, due to the quality of applications, CHAMP awarded a runner-up prize to Dr Romain Rouet. Dr Rouet, a postdoctoral fellow in the Immunology Division, is developing methods to use the CRISPR-Cas9 mediated gene editing to repair gene mutations in a tissue-specific manner by targeting the delivery of the RNA complexes to cell-specific receptors.  He is specifically interested in being able to reverse the most common cystic fibrosis mutation in lung tissue, to have a safe and effective way of reversing disease. Romain plans to test his approach using lung cells in culture.

Dr Sean Warren, a postdoctoral fellow in the Cancer Invasion and Metastasis laboratory in Garvan’s Cancer Division has been awarded the inaugural Palmer Innovation Prize. This prize of $15,000 is awarded to a Garvan researcher or research team responsible for developing an innovative product, process or technology that has (or will have) a significant benefit to scientific research, clinical application or education.

Dr Warren was awarded the prize for the development of a new multichannel biosensor imaging system which enables researchers to visualise and analyse the activity of multiple drug targets in live cells and tissues.

Of this development, Dr Warren said, “To improve cancer therapies using multiple drugs we need to know when and where the drugs are active in a tumour. We have developed a system where we can ‘unmix’ fluorescent reporters. This will let researchers look at the activity of drug targets in model systems. Using our system, we can look at whether multiple drugs are hitting their targets in one experiment, allowing us to rapidly determine the optimal treatment strategy.

“My team have applied the technology to study pancreatic cancer, but the approach is widely applicable whenever combination therapies are used to treat disease.

Many groups are interested in this technology and thanks to the Palmer Innovation Prize, this technology will now have a much broader impact.”

Congratulations to the award winners and continued thanks to Ridley, CHAMP Private Equity and the Joseph Palmer Foundation for their generous support of Garvan’s talented young researchers. 

Ends

Dr Thomas Cox’s research is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Dr Simon Junankar’s research is supported by the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Dr Sean Warren’s research is supported by the NHMRC, the Len Ainsworth Pancreatic Fellowship and Tour de Cure.

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