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Invasion and Metastasis Lab

Our lab uses intravital imaging to study the critical events that drive tumour invasion and spread.

Cancer invasion and metastasis occur in a complex three-dimensional environment, with reciprocal feedback from the surrounding host tissue and stroma governing cancer cell behaviour. Understanding this behaviour in an intact host setting allows us to examine – in a more physiological context – the aberrant regulation of critical events that lead to the dissemination and spread of the primary tumour. Intravital (in vivo) imaging is providing new insights into how cells behave in their native microenvironment, thereby improving our understanding of disease progression.

Video: in vivo imaging of intratumoral vasculature

Our lab uses novel state-of-the-art intravital imaging approaches and new fluorescent biosensor mouse models to uncouple the metastatic process into key stages, in order to pinpoint critical events that drive tumour invasion and metastasis. Our approach allows real-time imaging, ranging from whole body tumour progression to single-cell invasion events. This helps us understand how tumour cell dissociation, invasion or progression are controlled and how this regulation is linked to the development of invasive or metastatic cancer.

We also explore properties of the three-dimensional tumour microenvironment that contribute to poor drug targeting, in order to pinpoint critical barriers that impair treatment. We then employ combination therapy aimed at counteracting these barriers, to enhance drug penetrance and efficiency in vivo, and improve overall drug delivery outcomes.

Our lab uses established in vitro and in vivo 2D and 3D technology, to examine cancer progression at a sub-cellular and molecular level in situ. Our key techniques and current applications include:

  • Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging (FLIM) and Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) analysis, which allow for accurate, time-dependent monitoring of signalling events during drug treatment in a live tumour setting
  • Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) and photoactivation in live tumours, to examine and predict EMT and cell-cell junction turnover during early stages of cancer dissemination and invasion
  • 3D organotypic matrices which serve as a malleable platform for the assessment of vital tumour/stromal interaction in a 3D context, providing a powerful tool to complement in vivo investigations.

Software tools and resources

Open-source tools developed by our lab are available to download at:

Our 3D Organotypic Matrix Database/Resource contains over >11,000 organotypic invasion samples and embedded tissues.

Video above: RhoA, Live and in Color. The small GTPase RhoA is a major signalling hub in most cells, but its actions can be difficult to track. Timpson and colleagues developed a biosensor that reveals RhoA activation in living tissues and used it to examine signalling in real time. This movie shows three prime examples. Read the full story here.

Awards and honours

  • Ceclila Chambers. Awarded Best Oral Presentation. Australian Society for Medical Research, Annual Scientific Meeting (June 2023).  
  • Daniel Reed. Awarded Best Poster. Australian Society for Medical Research, Annual Scientific Meeting (June 2023).  
  • Michael Trpceski. Awarded first place at the UNSW Australian Graduate School of Engineering Three Minute Thesis Presentation Competition (May 2023)
  • Kendelle Murphy. Awarded Tour de Cure grant $50,000 (2023).
  • Brooke Pereira. Shortlisted for the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Australian & New Zealand Fellowship (June 2022).
  • Brooke Pereira Awarded 2nd prize for Early Career Award session at the 2022 Queenstown Molecular Biology Cancer Satellite $500 NZD  (November 2022).
  • Shona Ritchie. Awarded ‘Best flash talk’ at the 10th Garvan International Signalling Symposium (October 2022).
  • Daniel Reed. 2022 Estee Lauder Breast Cancer Research Award, $10,000.
  • Daniel Reed. Awarded poster presentation prize at the 35th Lorne Cancer Conference. $100 (February 2023).
  • Cecilia Chambers. Awarded Stuart Furler Travel Award for 2022 ($5,000)
  • Max Nobis. Awarded 2nd prize in 2022 LMA imaging competition, in vivo category for his work titled “Metastatic Activity, Live and in Colour”. 
  • Michael Trpceski: Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting 2022, Best Poster Prize in Health
  • Jessie Zhu: Maridulu Budyari Gumal (SPHERE) Cancer CAG PhD Scholarship Top-Up Award 2022-2025
  • Michael Trpceski: Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting 2022 Travel Scholarship
  • Michael Trpceski: Australian Society for Medical Research NSW Annual Scientific Meeting 2022, Best Lightning Talk Award
  • Cecilia Chambers: The Hunter Valley Meeting 2022, Best Poster Award
  • Kendelle Murphy: Lorne Cancer Conference 2022, Best ECR Presentation (Oncology One)
  • Michael Trpceski: UNSW Faculty of Medicine and Health White Walker Cancer Research Scholarship 2022-2026
  • Brooke A. Pereira: Cancer Institute of New South Wales Early Career Research Fellowship 2022-2024
  • Kendelle Murphy: Cancer Institute of New South Wales Early Career Research Fellowship 2022-2024
  • Brooke A. Pereira: PanKind Accelerator New Treatment Grant 2022-2023 (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • Brooke A. Pereira: UNSW Medicine E/MCR Cancer Research Seed Grant 2022 (Chief Investigator) 
  • Brooke A. Pereira: St. Vincent’s Seed Funding Grant 2022 (Chief Investigator) 
  • Max Nobis: Australia and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology Early Career Researcher Award 2021
  • Kendelle Murphy: Matrix Biology Society of Australia and New Zealand Paper of the Year (ECR Category) 2021
  • Kendelle Murphy: Matrix Biology Society of Australia and New Zealand Paper of the Month (December 2021)
  • Brooke A. Pereira: 10x Genomics & Millennium Science Spatial Pioneers Fellowship 2021
  • Michael Trpceski: EMBL Australia Postgraduate Symposium 2021, Lightning Talk Prize 
  • Kendelle Murphy: OzMRS Ms Megan Wheeler Early Career Researcher of the Year Award 2021
  • Cecilia Chambers: St Vincent's Campus Research Symposium 2021: Best student oral presentation
  • Shona Richie: Sydney Catalyst Research Showcase 2021: Best T1/T2 oral presentation
  • Cecilia Chambers: Baxter Family Postgraduate Scholarship 2020
  • Shona Richie: St Vincent’s Campus Research Symposium 2020: best rapid-fire presentation
  • Brooke A. Pereira: Sydney Catalyst Pilot and Seed Funding 2020
  • Shona Richie: Pan Pacific Connective Tissue Societies International Symposium 2020: Dennis Lowther Student
  • Claire Vennin et al, CAF hierarchy driven by pancreatic cancer cell p53-status creates a pro-metastatic and chemoresistant environment via perlecan. Nature Communications, Prize winner, “Paper of the month Matrix Biology Society of Australia and New Zealand (MBSANZ) Sept, 2019"
  • Kendelle Murphy: EACR-Worldwide Cancer Research Meeting Bursary to attend Goodbye Flat Biology 2019
  • Kendelle Murphy: Metastasis Research Society Meeting Bursary Award to attend Seed and Soil 2019.
  • David Herrmann: Sydney Catalyst Pilot & Seed Funding Award
  • Cecilia Chambers: Sydney Catalyst Postgraduate & Early Career Researcher Symposium Best Virtual Poster 2019
  • Max Nobis: Hunter Cell Biology Sydney Catalyst Poster Prize 2019
  • David Herrmann: Hunter Cell Biology F1000Prime Poster Prize 2019
  • Kendelle Murphy, Avner Pancreatic Foundation Symposium, Rapid Fire Young Investigator Speaker Awards, November 2018
  • Andrew McCulloch - Best Poster at 26th St. Vincent's Campus Research Symposium 2018
  • Max Nobis - Best Flash Talk at 7th Annual St. Vincent's Research Campus Post Doc Symposium 2018
  • Claire Vennin - 2017 Garvan Thesis Prize
  • Kendelle Murphy - 3D models poster prize at the British Association for Cancer Research (BACR) tumour microenvironment meeting (2017)
  • Claire Vennin - Best Translation Poster at Cell Signaling and Translational Implications (CSTI) 2017^pp
  • Sean Warran - Palmer Innovation Prize 2017
  • Max Nobis - Best poster at Lorne Cancer Conference 2017
  • David Herrmann - awarded a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Travel Award (2017)
  • Clare Vennin - received the F1000 Associate Faculty Member Travel Grant for the Cell Biology Faculty (2016)
  • Claire Vennin - Stuart Furler Travel Award recipient (14th December 2016)
  • Claire Vennin - Best Cancer-related Poster Prize at 8th Garvan Signalling Meeting (1st November 2016, sponsored by Sydney Catalyst)
  • Sean Warren - Best Post Doc Presentation Prize at 7th International Nanomedicine Conference (29th June 2016)
  • Claire Vennin - Sydney Catalyst Research Scholarship and Top Up Awards (2016)
  • David Hermann - Young Garvan Award Finalist 2016: “Edgy Ideas
  • Claire Vennin - 2015 Dennis Loather Student Poster Award at the Matrix Biology Society of Australia and New Zealand (30th October 2015)
  • Claire Vennin - Award for Best Presentation at the 23rd St Vincent's Campus Research Symposium (9th September 2015)
  • James Conway - Best poster at The Australian Society for Medical Research NSW Scientific Meeting 2015 (1st June 2015)
  • Claire Vennin - Best oral presentation award at the Sydney Catalyst Post-graduate and Early Career Symposium (29th April 2015)

Research team