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02 Dec 2021

Cancer Institute NSW funds early career research

CINSW awards Early Career Fellowships to two Garvan cancer researchers.

The Cancer Institute NSW has awarded two prestigious and highly competitive Early Career Fellowships to Dr Kendelle Murphy and Dr Brooke Pereira at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

CINSW’s Early Career Fellowships are aimed at encouraging scientists to build on their research capability and become leaders of their own research team, and are awarded up to five years after PhD completion.

Both Dr Murphy and Dr Pereira are members of Garvan’s Invasion and Metastasis Lab led by Professor Paul Timpson. Their research will explore new approaches to treat pancreatic cancer, with a particular focus on fibrotic targeting therapies that could have direct implications for clinical treatments.

Dr Brooke Pereira: targeting fibrosis in pancreatic cancer

Dr Pereira is studying pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), one of the most lethal forms of cancer with a five-year survival rate of 9%.

One of the challenges in successfully treating PDAC is the microenvironment surrounding the tumour, which is characterised by a tough, stiff connective tissue. This tough tissue, known as fibrosis, can impede blood flow around the tumour, making it harder for treatments to reach their target and reducing the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapies.

Dr Pereira will use world-class live imaging technologies at the Garvan’s ACRF INCITe Centre to investigate new ways to target the extracellular matrix in pancreatic cancer using anti-fibrotic treatments. By reducing fibrosis around the tumour, Dr Pereira hopes to boost the effectiveness of standard chemotherapies and improve patients’ response to treatments.

Dr Kendelle Murphy: ‘priming’ pancreatic cancer to be more susceptible to standard therapies

In addition to reducing the effectiveness of treatment, the pancreatic cancer microenvironment (also known as the stroma) can help promote the spread of cancer. Cancers that metastasise to other sites around the body are typically much harder to treat.

FAK is a molecule produced by pancreatic cancer that increases the stiffness of the stroma and helps cancer cells to grow, mobilise and metastasise.

Dr Murphy has identified that the levels and activity of FAK increase as the disease progresses, and that a high FAK signature is linked to poor patient outcomes.

Dr Murphy will test a new therapy in a pre-clinical study which will attempt to block FAK activity and ‘prime’ tumours to be more susceptible to standard therapies, with the aim to improve patient responses to treatment.