Dr David Chang
Media Release: 15 July 2011
At a gala dinner held last night, the Cancer Institute NSW presented two Garvan researchers with prestigious Premier’s Awards.
Dr Alex Swarbrick received the CINSW 2011 Premier’s Fellow of the Year Award and Dr David Chang received the CINSW 2011 Premier’s Scholar of the Year Award, as well as a Pfizer Oncology International Studentship.
The Cancer Institute has funded Dr Swarbrick’s groundbreaking research into molecular control of cancer behaviour, in particular breast cancer and neuroblastoma (childhood cancer of the nervous system), for the last two and a half years.
Swarbrick has focused on cancers caused by a new class of genes known as ‘microRNAs’, produced by parts of the genome that, until recently, were dismissed as ‘junk DNA’. While much is still unknown about microRNAs, it is clear that they can interfere with how our genes are ‘read’.
Delighted to have received his award, Swarbrick noted that Cancer Institute funding has given his somewhat speculative research the kick-start it needed. “It was really their fellowship that gave me research independence – allowing me to set up my own lab,” he said.
Award recipient Dr David Chang is a pancreatic cancer surgeon who is completing a PhD, as he intends to combine clinical and research work throughout his career.
Chang has received Cancer Institute Research Scholar Award funding to help fund his research, which focuses on the expression of S100 calcium-binding proteins in pancreatic cancer. Protein expression can be correlated to patient prognosis and response to chemotherapy. “The research from my PhD has led to the discovery of certain biomarkers, which indicate a patient’s prognosis – helpful when a clinician must make a tie-breaker decision about whether or not to proceed with surgery.”
While important in itself, this work forms an integral part of a much larger exercise in coming to grips with pancreatic cancer. What started as the NSW Pancreatic Cancer Network has evolved into the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative (APGI), the Australian arm of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), which collects and sequences pancreatic cancers from across Australia.
“In Australia, we aim to do deep genomic sequencing of 400 pancreatic cancers,” said Chang.
“We’ve done about 110 so far, and that has taken us roughly a year.”
“This detailed knowledge will allow us to move towards personalised medicine, or treatment of individuals that is guided by tumour-specific genetic mutations.”