Dr Samantha Oakes

Group Leader - Cell Survival

Dr Samantha Oakes

Dr. Samantha Oakes is head of the Cancer Cell Survival group at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Sydney. In 2007, Samantha received her PhD from the University of New South Wales and won the Garvan Institute best thesis prize f


Dr. Samantha Oakes is head of the Cancer Cell Survival group at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Sydney. In 2007, Samantha received her PhD from the University of New South Wales and won the Garvan Institute best thesis prize for this work. Since this time, Samantha has published research manuscripts focused on the understanding and treatment of cancer and has been awarded over $3.2 million in competitive grant funding. The focus of her lab is to understand the molecular and mechanistic signals involved in breast cancer tumour cell survival. The mechanisms that contribute to cell survival underlie every stage of tumour progression from the initiating event, tumour growth, localised invasion and metastasis and finally during the acquisition of chemotherapeutic resistance. These mechanisms can arise from the tumour cell itself (intrinsic) or act in concert with the microenvironment (extrinsic). 

Recently, Samantha and her team discovered a new dual therapeutic approach, which in preclinical studies prevents the spread of breast cancers through the body and has promise for the treatment of other tumours including lung, prostate and pancreatic cancer. In 2017, she was awarded a Cancer Council NSW project grant to expand on this work for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, to ensure the outcomes of this research are rapidly translated into the clinic. In 2016, Samantha won the Young Garvan award for the 'edgiest idea'. This innovator grant entitled 'Tricking cancer cells into thinking they are sick to make them sensitive to immunotherapy', is focussed on discovering ways to make immunotherapy (which is producing cures in a small number of patients with cancer), work for more patients. Hopefully these projects will ultimately improve the survival of women and men suffering cancer. Samantha is a peer reviewer for Australian and New Zealand grant review panels and many international journals and in 2017 voted as chair of the St. Vincent's Precinct Research Symposium, encouraging networking and collaboration across the Garvan, Victor Chang and the St. Vincent's Applied Health Research Institutes.

Samantha is a passionate advocate of medical research in the community and a role model to women dealing with the challenges of balancing family and a scientific career. Samantha also raises awareness about cancer and the importance of research in the community through her extra-curricular activities both as a spokesperson for NBCF and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. 

Awards and Honours

2016 - State Custodians Young Garvan Award
2015 - National Breast Cancer Foundation Spirit of Giving Award ‘Excellence in Science Communication Award’
2013-2016 - NBCF Early Career Fellowship
2008-2010 - NHMRC Peter Doherty Australian-based Biomedical Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. 2008-2010 NBCF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
2003-2006 - NHMRC Dora Lush Pre-doctoral Research Scholarship
2012 - The University of Sydney Medal for Excellence in Medical Research for the Best Overall Presentation NSW Scientific Meeting, Sydney, Australia
2012 - National Breast Cancer Foundation Patron’s Award for ‘Excellence in Science and Science Communication Award’ Awarded by the Governor General of Australia Ms Quentin Bryce and Sarah Murdoch (Patron of the National Breast Cancer Foundation)
2008 - Outstanding Oral Presentation 2008 Prolactin and Growth Hormone Gordon Research Conference, Ventura, California, USA
2007 - Garvan Institute Thesis Prize, Sydney, Australia
2007 - The Eli Lilly Award for the Best Student Oral Presentation, NSW ASMR Scientific Meeting, Sydney, Australia
2006 - The Cancer Institute Award for Excellence in Student Oral Presentation. 16th St Vincent’s and Mater Health Sydney Research Symposium, Sydney, Australia


2007 - PhD (Medical Research), University of New South Wales (Garvan Institute of Medical Research) - Australia
1999 - BSc (Hons1) Anatomy, University of New South Wales - Australia

Selected Publications

Oakes SR, Gallego-Ortega D, Stanford PM, Junankar S, Au WWY, Kikhtyak Z, von Korff A, Sergio CM, Law AMK, Castillo LE, Allerdice SL, Young AIJ, Piggin C, Whittle B, Bertram E, Naylor MJ, Roden DL, Donovan J, Korennykh A, Goodnow CC, O'Bryan MK and Ormandy CJ. A mutation in the viral sensor 2'-5'-oligoadenylate synthetase 2 causes failure of lactation. PLoS Genet. 2017 Nov 8;13(11):e1007072.

Law AMK, Yin JXM, Castillo L, Young AIJ, Piggin C, Rogers S, Caldon CE, Burgess A, Millar EKA, O'Toole SA, Gallego-Ortega D, Ormandy CJ and Oakes SR. Andy's Algorithms: new automated digital image analysis pipelines for FIJI. Sci Rep. 2017 Nov 16;7(1):15717.

Young AI, Timpson P, Gallego-Ortega D, Ormandy CJ and Oakes SR. Myeloid cell leukemia 1 (MCL-1), an unexpected modulator of protein kinase signaling during invasion. Cell Adh Migr. 2017 Nov 23:1-11.

Young AI, Law AM, Castillo L, Chong S, Cullen HD, Koehler M, Herzog S, Brummer T, Lee EF, Fairlie WD, Lucas MC, Herrmann D, Allam A, Timpson P, Watkins DN, Millar EK, O'Toole SA, Gallego-Ortega D, Ormandy CJ and Oakes SR. MCL-1 inhibition provides a new way to suppress breast cancer metastasis and increase sensitivity to dasatinib. Breast Cancer Research 2016 Dec 8;18(1):125.

Piggin CL, Roden DL, Gallego-Ortega D, Lee HJ, Oakes SR and Ormandy SR ELF5 Isoform Expression is Tissue-Specific and Significantly Altered in Cancer. Breast Cancer Research 2016 Jan 7;18(1):4

Gallego-Ortega D, Ledger A, Roden D, Magenau A, Law AMK, Kikhtyak ZO, Cho C, Allerdice SL, Lee HJ, Valdes-Mora F, Young AIJ, Lee BW , Kaplan W, Salomon R, Piggin C, Hermann D, Conway J, Rabinovich B, Millar E, Oakes SR, Chtanova T, Swarbrick A, Naylor MJ, O’Toole S, Timpson P, Gee JMW, Ellis I, Clark SJ  and Ormandy CJ. The ETS transcription factor ELF5 drives lung metastasis in luminal breast cancer via recruitment of Gr-1+CD11b+ myeloid derived suppressor cells. PLOS Biology 2015 Dec 30;13(12)

Hilton HN, Doan TB, Graham JD, Oakes SR, Silvestri A, Santucci N, Kantimm S, Huschtscha LI, Ormandy CJ, Funder JW, Simpson ER, Kuczek ES, Leedman PJ, Tilley WD, Fuller PJ, Muscat GEO, Clarke CL. Acquired convergence of hormone signaling in breast cancer: ER and PR transition from functionally distinct in normal breast to predictors of metastatic disease. Oncotarget 2014 5(18), 8651. 

Oakes SR, Gallego-Ortega D and Ormandy CJ. The mammary cellular hierarchy Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 2014 71 (22), 4301-4324.

Gallego-Ortega D, Oakes SR, Lee HJ, Piggin CL and Ormandy CJ. Elf5, normal mammary development, and the heterogeneous phenotypes of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Management 2013 2(6):489-498 

O’Toole SA, Beith JM, Millar EKA, West R, McLean A, Cazet A, Swarbrick A and Oakes SR. Therapeutic targets in triple negative breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Pathology 2013 66(6):530-42

Kalyuga M, Gallego-Ortega D, Lee HJ, Roden DL, Cowley MJ, Caldon CE, Stone A, Allerdice SL, Valdes-Mora F, Launchbury R, Statham AL, Armstrong N, Alles MC, Young A, Egger A, Au W, Piggin CL, Evans CJ, Ledger A, Brummer T, Oakes SR, Kaplan W, Gee JM, Nicholson RI, Sutherland RL, Swarbrick A, Naylor MJ, Clark SJ, Carroll JS, Ormandy CJ. ELF5 suppresses estrogen sensitivity and underpins the acquisition of antiestrogen resistance in luminal breast cancer. Plos Biology 2012; 10(12):e1001461

Oakes SR, Vaillant F, Lim E, Lee L, Breslin K, Feleppa F, Deb S, Ritchie ME, Takano E, Ward T, Fox SB, Generali D, Smyth GK, Strasser A, Huang DC, Visvader JE, Lindeman GJ. Sensitization of BCL-2 expressing breast tumors to chemotherapy by the BH3 mimetic ABT-737. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012; 109(8): 2766-71.

Bouras T, Pal B, Vaillant F, Harburg G, Asselin-Labat ML, Oakes SR, Lindeman GJ, Visvader JE. Notch Signaling Regulates Mammary Stem Cell Function and Luminal Cell-Fate Commitment. Cell Stem Cell, 2008; 9 (3): 429-441.

Oakes SR, Naylor MJ, Asselin-Labat ML, Blazek KD, Gardiner-Garden M, Hilton HN, Kazlauskas M, Pritchard MA, Chodosh LA, Pfeffer PL, Lindeman GJ, Visvader JE, Ormandy CJ. The Ets transcription factor Elf5 specifies mammary alveolar cell fate. Genes Dev. 2008; 22(5):581-6.