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11 Feb 2019

Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships: recognition for Garvan researchers

Six new Cancer Institute NSW Fellowships have been awarded to Garvan researchers to support various projects into innovative cancer treatment research.

Announced by the NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research, the Hon. Brad Hazzard MP, six research Fellowships at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research will be funded by grants totalling $3.3 million through the Cancer Institute NSW. This funding will help these researchers drive investigations into novel approaches to better understand a range of cancers, and potential therapeutic approaches.

The projects will be led by Dr Andre Minoche, who was awarded an Early Career Fellowship, and Dr Mark McCabe, Dr Fatima Valdes Mora, Dr Ozren Bogdanovic, Dr Christine Chaffer and Dr Michelle McDonald who were each awarded Career Development Fellowships.

Professor Chris Goodnow, Executive Director of the Garvan Institute says, “I’m delighted that so many of our talented researchers have been recognised by the Cancer Institute NSW through these Fellowships. They will now be able to delve into these important research projects, made possible through this critical funding.”

Chief Cancer Officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW, Professor David Currow, said developing therapies for severe cancers was critical to reducing the impact of cancer on the community.

“These Fellowships are about supporting our very best researchers to pursue promising treatments for people living with cancer,” Professor Currow said. “Their research will have an enormous, tangible impact on the community. Our goal is that it will help stop the spread of cancer and lessen its impact across the state.”

The Fellowship recipients and their projects

Early Career Fellowship: Dr Andre Minoche

Defining the genomic and epigenetic landscape of high-risk paediatric cancer genomes using long-read sequencing

Dr Minoche plans to use the newest generation of long read genome sequencing to comprehensively identify driver mutations in patients with a high risk of childhood cancer. The ability to accurately identify all mutations in a patient’s genome is critical for the understanding of cancer biology and for optimal treatment. This is not possible with existing technologies, which can miss mutations in the cancer genome.

Career Development Fellowship: Dr Mark McCabe

Non-invasive monitoring of tumour burden and therapeutic response through liquid biopsy and targeted gene capture

Dr McCabe plans to use liquid biopsies for circulating tumour DNA  a non-invasive and inexpensive means of providing a global picture of all harmful mutations present in an individual with cancer in real-time, to monitor disease progression and therapeutic response in patients with advanced cancer who are enrolled in clinical trials.

Career Development Fellowship: Dr Fatima Valdes Mora

An epigenetic approach to target akuma-myeloid-derived suppressor cells in breast cancer

Dr Valdes Mora plans to investigate a novel way to improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy in breast cancer through epigenetic drugs. Myeloid cells, immune cells discovered to be responsible for the resistance to current immunotherapy treatments in breast cancer patients will be targeted with a combination of novel epigenetic drugs and immunotherapy in the most aggressive types of breast cancer to investigate the effectiveness of the potential treatment.

Career Development Fellowship: Dr Ozren Bogdanovic

Epigenetic regulation of germline cell fate during oncogenesis

Dr Bogdanovic plans to explore the function of cancer testis antigens (CTAs) during melanoma formation, providing major novel insights into CTA function in vivo. It is believed CTA expression in cancers can contribute to the invasiveness and metastatic capacity of the tumour, though the roles of CTAs as a healthy cell transforms into a cancer cell is largely unexplored.  It is expected that the results of this project will have potential implications for the design of CTA-based cancer vaccines.

Career Development Fellowship: Dr Christine Chaffer

Manipulating IL-1b/IL-1R1 signalling to inhibit breast cancer metastasis

Dr Chaffer, who is also the proud recipient of the Rebecca Wilson Fellowship in Breast Cancer Research, will investigate a novel therapeutic approach to stop the spread of breast cancer. Dr Chaffer and her team have discovered that primary breast tumours co-operate with the immune system to increase the signalling factor IL-1b at the metastatic site, which in turn inhibits metastatic growth. Dr Chaffer will manipulate IL-1b levels in metastatic tumours to determine whether this novel therapeutic approach can stop the spread of breast cancer.

Career Development Fellowship: Dr Michelle McDonald

Tumour-bone cell interactions: An opportunity to harness the microenvironment to overcome metastatic disease

Dr McDonald will investigate the role that bone cells play in the survival and growth of tumour cells following their arrival in bone after a cancer has metastasised. How and why tumour cells are able to survive and grow in specific sites such as bone is unclear. Using existing pharmacological agents that alter the activity of bone cells, Dr McDonald aims to control whether cancer cells grow or remain asleep in the bone.