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24 May 2021

Cancer Council NSW Grants for Garvan Researchers

Four Garvan researchers have been awarded project grants from Cancer Council NSW to explore innovative new frontiers in cancer research.

Cancer Council NSW has awarded four project grants to Garvan Institute of Medical Research scientists to embark on innovative research projects in pancreatic cancer, breast cancer and neuroblastoma.

The projects build on Garvan’s leading cancer discoveries and leverage the Institute’s capabilities and expertise in imaging, mathematical modelling and cancer cell biology.

Each worth $450,000, the grants were awarded based on scientific merit, as determined by a peer-review process, and also reviewed by a consumer panel.

“I’m delighted for our four Garvan researchers who were successful in securing Cancer Council NSW grants this year. This is a highly impressive result for both our emerging and senior researchers, and we look forward to following the outcomes of their potentially life-changing projects in years to come,” says Garvan Executive Director Professor Chris Goodnow.

The funded projects are led by:

Targeting scarring in pancreatic cancer

Dr Jessica Chitty

Chemotherapy is the standard-of-care for pancreatic cancer patients, but over time it becomes ineffective due to the tumour tissue scarring in response to the treatment. These tumour scars are composed of collagen fibers, which act as a barrier to further treatment.

Dr Chitty, Research Officer in the Matrix and Metastasis Lab, aims to combat tumour scarring by targeting collagen levels. In models of advanced pancreatic cancer, Dr Chitty will test whether a new therapy that can inactivate the enzymes critical to collagen production could improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Personalising treatment for high-risk neuroblastoma

A/Prof David Croucher

Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in infants, frequently occurring in children under two years of age. Approximately half of all neuroblastoma patients present with high-risk disease and receive intense treatment including chemotherapy, surgical resection and radiotherapy. Despite this, the survival rate for high-risk neuroblastoma patients is still below 40-50%.

A/Prof Croucher, Head of the Network Biology Lab, aims to greatly improving this poor response rate by using advanced mathematical modelling to test a treatment regimen.

Targeting metabolic instability to stop pancreatic cancer growth and spread

Prof Paul Timpson

Pancreatic tumour tissues can form a barrier to effective cancer therapies, which worsens outcomes for patients. Using cutting-edge imaging technology and 3D models that mimic the disease, Prof Paul Timpson’s team is able to map areas of poor drug response within distinct regions of tumours.

Prof Timpson, Cancer Research Theme Leader and Head of the Invasion and Metastasis Lab, will lead a project to reduce the factors that limit efficient drug targeting in these areas. He aims to enhance the promising anti-cancer properties of NPY, a molecule involved in our body’s energy metabolism, and the chemotherapy medication Gemcitabine for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Investigating the spread of triple-negative breast cancer

Dr Robert Weatheritt

Metastasis, the spread of a primary tumour to distant regions of the body, accounts for over 90% of cancer-related deaths. But despite the clear link to poor patient survival, there are few treatment options once cancer has spread.

Dr Robert Weatheritt, Head of the Neurotranscriptomics Lab at Garvan, has shown that a ‘switch’ in a subpopulation of cancer cells drives metastasis. As part of his new project, he aims to identify and validate drug targets that prevent these switched cells from arising, to ultimately stop metastasis and improve patient outcomes.