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Harnessing the potential of intravital imaging technology and immunotherapy to advance the treatment of cancer.

The ACRF-funded Intravital Imaging of Niches for Cancer Immune Therapy (INCITe) Centre is a cross-disciplinary collaboration of cancer biologists, immunologists, clinicians and world-class experts in physics and engineering. Together, we have pioneered the development of intravital imaging technology, which allows researchers to observe the immune system fighting cancer, in real time and at a molecular level.

Our goal is to revolutionise the treatment of all cancers by transforming the future of intravital imaging: 5 x faster. 5 x brighter. 5 x deeper.

The ACRF Centre will address a major challenge for cancer treatment: how to improve immunotherapy for all patients.

While based at the Garvan Institute, the INCITe Centre operates as part of an Australia-wide network with our strategic partners at the Australian National University (Canberra), the University of Technology Sydney, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (Brisbane), the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (Melbourne), the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research (Perth) and the Centre for Cancer Biology (Adelaide). The establishment of the INCITe Centre was made possible thanks to a $3 million grant from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

Our Centre houses four next-generation microscopes including the Molecular NICHEscopes and the EndoNICHEscopes. Using these microscopes, we can identify cancer and immune cells in previously inaccessible regions, like deep inside bone, and observe signalling between live tumour cells and immune cells. This allows us to study in unprecedented detail how drug-resistant, dormant cancer cells develop and interact with the immune system. These insights help us identify new therapeutic targets to eradicate cancer, translating research into improved patient outcomes.

Immune cells swarming with molecular activity movie

Our holistic approach targets both the cancer cell and the extrinsic environment in which it resides. Cancer cells, stromal cells, the extracellular matrix (ECM) and immune cells all interact as part of a dynamic ecosystem. We believe that meaningful insights can only be yielded when this ecosystem is simultaneously examined through the lenses of both cancer and immunology. The benefits of exploring cellular dynamics in cancer cell niches, in vivo and in real time, have driven us to develop new microscopes that make deep tissue imaging possible. 

Our team has pioneered the development of intravital imaging technology – a microscope technique with the ability to look directly into living tissues in real time. This offers the exciting prospect of studying the complex cancer–immune cell ecosystem in toto for the first time. 

Our NICHEscopes are the next generation of intravital two-photon microscopes, explicitly designed to image cancer–immune cell interactions in their native microenvironment. We have built different and complementary types of NICHEscopes to achieve two specific objectives:  (1) a revolutionary Raster Adaptive Optics (RAO) module to image deeper and (2)   fast fluorescence lifetime imaging technology for in vivo molecular interactions. Together, these two bespoke NICHEscopes enable multimodal, multiscale imaging of deep tissues that has not previously been possible.

The NICHEscopes housed at the INCITe Centre at the Garvan Institute are available to cancer researchers across Australia. The Centre includes dedicated image analysis facilities and an innovative shared virtual lab environment, providing investigators at partner organisations with remote access to imaging work stations and training. Workstations loaded with Imaris analysis software licences allow researchers to share data in real time, regardless of where they are located. This allows the Australian research community to crowdsource experiments, access and analyse data, and leverage a wider research network from within their host organisations. In addition to this, we will investigate the use of augmented reality technologies for the remote operation of our microscopes. 

For more information about our technology, or to discuss accessing it to support your research, please email

We leverage the national precision oncology trials platform Omico and the Molecular Screening and Therapeutics trial (MoST), which use genomics and other molecular screening tools to identify patients for therapeutic trials, including immunotherapies. MoST is a key part of a program which will screen more than 8,000 Australians with advanced cancer via 15 cancer centres nationally, and enter more than 600 into promising therapeutic trials. Led by Professor Thomas and Professor John Simes (NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre), a core objective of MoST is accelerating promising wet lab research to clinical translation. Using the ACRF INCITe Centre and our capacity to monitor the tumour microenvironment and fibrosis, we are running two anti-fibrotic clinical trials via MOST-P, to improve outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer. This is coupled with our ongoing industrial collaborations to translate our non-genomic work from bench-to-bedside via Amplia therapeutics, using anti-fibrotic targeting in cancer. 

Selected publications

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  • 2023
    Science Advances10.1126/sciadv.adf9063

    Monitoring AKT activity and targeting in live tissue and disease contexts using a real-time Akt-FRET biosensor mouse.

    James R W Conway, Sean C Warren, Young-Kyung Lee, Andrew T McCulloch, Astrid Magenau, Victoria Lee, Xanthe L Metcalf, Janett Stoehr, Katharina Haigh, Lea Abdulkhalek, Cristian S Guaman, Daniel A Reed, Kendelle J Murphy, Brooke A Pereira, Pauline Mélénec, Cecilia Chambers, Sharissa L Latham, Helen Lenthall, Elissa K Deenick, Yuanqing Ma, Tri Phan, Elgene Lim, Anthony M Joshua, Stacey Walters, Shane T Grey, Yan-Chuan Shi, Lei Zhang, Herbert Herzog, David R Croucher, Andy Philp, Colinda L G J Scheele, David Herrmann, Owen J Sansom, Jennifer P Morton, Antonella Papa, Jody J Haigh, Max Nobis, Paul Timpson
  • 2023

    Apoptotic cell fragments locally activate tingible body macrophages in the germinal center.

    Abigail K Grootveld, Wunna Kyaw, Veera Panova, Angelica W Y Lau, Emily Ashwin, Guillaume Seuzaret, Rama Dhenni, Nayan Deger Bhattacharyya, Weng Hua Khoo, Maté Biro, Tanmay Mitra, Michael Meyer-Hermann, Patrick Bertolino, Masato Tanaka, David A Hume, Peter I Croucher, Robert Brink, Akira Nguyen, Oliver Bannard, Tri Giang Phan
  • 2023
    Cancer Research10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-21-4025

    Neutrophil Conversion to a Tumor-Killing Phenotype Underpins Effective Microbial Therapy.

    Andrew O Yam, Jacqueline Bailey, Francis Lin, Arnolda Jakovija, Scott E Youlten, Claudio Counoupas, Matthias Gunzer, Tobias Bald, Trent M Woodruff, James A Triccas, Leonard D Goldstein, David Gallego-Ortega, Shane T Grey, Tatyana Chtanova
  • 2023
    Science Advances10.1126/sciadv.abp8314

    Memory of stochastic single-cell apoptotic signaling promotes chemoresistance in neuroblastoma.

    Jordan F Hastings, Sharissa L Latham, Alvin Kamili, Madeleine S Wheatley, Jeremy Z R Han, Marie Wong-Erasmus, Monica Phimmachanh, Max Nobis, Chiara Pantarelli, Antonia L Cadell, Yolande E I O'Donnell, King Ho Leong, Sophie Lynn, Fan-Suo Geng, Lujing Cui, Sabrina Yan, Joanna Achinger-Kawecka, Clare Stirzaker, Murray D Norris, Michelle Haber, Toby N Trahair, Frank Speleman, Katleen De Preter, Mark J Cowley, Ozren Bogdanovic, Paul Timpson, Thomas R Cox, Walter Kolch, Jamie I Fletcher, Dirk Fey, David R Croucher
  • 2021
    Science Advances10.1126/sciadv.abh0363

    Intravital imaging technology guides FAK-mediated priming in pancreatic cancer precision medicine according to Merlin status.

    Kendelle J Murphy, Daniel A Reed, Claire Vennin, James R W Conway, Max Nobis, Julia X Yin, Cecilia R Chambers, Brooke A Pereira, Victoria Lee, Elysse C Filipe, Michael Trpceski, Shona Ritchie, Morghan C Lucas, Sean C Warren, Joanna N Skhinas, Astrid Magenau, Xanthe L Metcalf, Janett Stoehr, Gretel Major, Ashleigh Parkin, Romain Bidanel, Ruth J Lyons, Anaiis Zaratzian, Michael Tayao, Andrew Da Silva, Lea Abdulkhalek, , , Anthony J Gill, Amber L Johns, Andrew V Biankin, Jaswinder Samra, Sean M Grimmond, Angela Chou, Jacky G Goetz, Michael S Samuel, J Guy Lyons, Andrew Burgess, C Elizabeth Caldon, Lisa G Horvath, Roger J Daly, Nikolaj Gadegaard, Yingxiao Wang, Owen J Sansom, Jennifer P Morton, Thomas R Cox, Marina Pajic, David Herrmann, Paul Timpson