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Personalised Cancer Therapeutics Lab

Our lab works to develop novel tailored treatment strategies for pancreatic cancer.

Since returning from a successful postdoc at the Netherlands Cancer Institute and establishing her lab at the Garvan in 2013, Associate Professor Marina Pajic has developed an innovative program that builds on the unique infrastructure she has generated – a wealth of integrated human cancer genomic and gene product expression profiles, complex 3D and patient-derived mouse models, rapidly evolving technologies and close clinical links – to reveal new insights into the deregulation of molecules commonly hijacked in cancer, which drive tumour heterogeneity, metastasis and chemoresistance. Her team is using this knowledge to inform the rational design of novel, tailored treatment options for one of the hardest-to-treat malignancies – pancreatic cancer.

Our research program centres on two key areas:

  1. Validating new drug targets and developing optimal combination therapies for the treatment of pancreatic cancer
  2. Understanding how anti-cancer drug resistance develops. To this end, our lab is applying a combination of whole genome sequencing, single-cell transcriptomics and other molecular analyses to document the emergence of cancer chemoresistance. Our ultimate goal is to refine tailored treatment strategies for pancreatic cancer, overcome or circumvent treatment resistance and build optimal, effective treatment combinations for patients with this disease.

Based on her discovery work as a Snow Medical Research Fellow and on precision medicine principles, Associate Professor Pajic has established a translational precision oncology program, which will include establishing two new trials for pancreatic cancer.

Novel disease models, technologies and approach

To support our research goals, our lab utilises:

  • Realistic, well-annotated in vitro and in vivo models of pancreatic cancer, patient-derived xenografts (n=80 PDX; n=20 PDCL) and novel metastatic models of pancreatic cancer generated by our lab, which provide a unique, robust platform for examining personalised medicine strategies
  • Novel 3D organoid, co-culture models for studying tumour-stroma interactions (pancreatic and other cancer types, including head and neck carcinomas for pan-cancer studies)
  • A sizeable cohort of fluorescently labelled PDX for preclinical drug discovery, providing dynamic readouts of disease state and therapeutic response of examined agents
  • Study of immunomodulatory effects of targeted agents in the genetically-engineered mouse model of pancreatic cancer
  • The wealth of genomic data and comprehensive patient cohorts generated as part of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative, for biomarker discovery work.

Cutting-edge tools

Unique, well-annotated in vitro and in vivo patient-derived models of pancreatic cancer, developed by our lab as part of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative, are available to researchers via:

Selected lab awards and honours

  • Dr Sean Porazinski: St Vincent's Clinic Foundation De Angeli Cancer Research Grant (2022, CIA); Tour de Cure mid-career grant (2020, CIA); Sydney Catalyst Travel and Education Award (2021)
  • Dr Ashleigh Parkin: National Council of Women of NSW Australia Day Student Award (2019); Sydney Catalyst Travel and Education Award (2018); Lorne Cancer Conference, VIC – Best poster prize (2018); CSTI meeting, VIC – Best overall poster prize (2017); Sydney Catalyst Early Career Symposium – Best oral presentation T1/T2 (2017); Sydney Catalyst Early Career Symposium – Best oral 3MP presentation (2016)
  • Dr Jennifer Man: Australasian Metastasis Research Society conference – Oral presentation (2017); MOGA annual meeting – Best poster prize (2019)

Our lab’s research is supported by funding from the Snow Medical Research Fellowship, NHMRC, Cancer Institute NSW, Australia Cancer Research Foundation, Ms Jane Hemstritch and the Girgensohn Foundation.

Research team

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