Prof Mark Smyth Awarded Australia Fellowship
Prof Mark Smyth Awarded Australia Fellowship - Research at Peter Mac
|Professor Mark Smyth from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre's Cancer Immunology Program has been recognised as one of Australia’s most outstanding and creative medical researchers, with the announcement today of a five year, $4 million Australia Fellowship from the National Medical Health and Research Council today.|
The prestigious Fellowship is not only recognition of Professor Smyth’s exemplary 18-year career, but a strong endorsement of his view that cancer immunology will play a major role in the future of cancer research. ‘With this grant, we will be training the next generation of researchers and firmly entrenching the cancer immunology discipline as a cancer discipline in Australia’ said Professor Smyth.
The Fellowship also supports Professor Smyth’s belief that Melbourne is well-equipped to be the consolidated centre of cancer immunology research in Australia, where a critical mass of researchers can be established to compete with the best immunology research centres in the world. ‘I think that cancer immunology is going to be very important, so it’s therefore important to have a good core of activity in Australia. Currently, there’s a good core of activity in the United States and emerging activity in Japan and European countries, and now in Melbourne we’ve got a fantastic opportunity to coordinate something very effective.’
At the centre of his research, Professor Smyth says he is ‘trying to understand at what point, at what level molecularly, does the immune system get engaged in the cancer from the start right through to the spread.’
‘The immune involvement in cancer occurs in three stages, the ‘Three Es’: elimination, equilibrium and escape. In elimination, the immune system deals with the cancer, gets rid of it, and thankfully we never see it clinically. Equilibrium is this phase unique to our work, where we can actually follow the cancer development in real time, and working in the escape phase, means understanding the escape mechanisms of a tumour when it spreads from the primary location, and trying to reverse these mechanisms — that’s where the immunotherapies come in.’
But as cancer onset, development and spread is a complex and arbitrary process — differing between cancer types and patients — professor Smyth explains that in applying these immunotherapies, ‘we don’t think any single therapy is going to be effective, you need combinations and you have to rationally put those combinations together based on the science that you do and your understanding of what’s most effective given the majority of research models.’
Professor Smyth says that an ideal clinical outcome from this immunology research would be that the immune system of each patient controls and rejects cancer cells at a tumour’s nascent stages, without harming the body, ‘these are the approaches we’re taking: to boost the immune system, so that it can drive only the elements of the system that you want, to get a rejection response, but also to try and inhibit or block the tumour mechanisms that suppress immunity.’
Looking to the future, Professor Smyth aims to grow Peter Mac’s Cancer Immunology Program to the point where it is a pillar of the cancer research undertaken at the Parkville Comprehensive Cancer Centre in 2015. Ultimately, the Fellowship provides essential funding as Peter Mac researchers aim to understand the immune reaction within a cancer; the initiation, the growth and the spread of the cancer.
‘This grant is welcome support that will help develop new cancer therapies and make a difference to patients. We’re building on preliminary findings — we’ve already got a base of activity, but now with this Australia Fellowship there’s a lot more that we can do.’