Peter Mac News


Five Victorian Cancer Agency grants awarded to Peter Mac Researchers

05 February 2024

In alignment with World Cancer Day, Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas announced funding for 13 Victorian Cancer Agency fellowships with Peter Mac researchers receiving almost half of the fellowships.

The fellowships covered low-survival cancers, palliative care cancer as well as early career and mid-career research fellowships.

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Professor Ricky Johnstone, Executive Director of Cancer Research at Peter Mac, said Peter Mac receiving five of the 13 grants demonstrates the talent of our awardees and calibre of research that is being undertaken.

“We are in the unique position of having both world class cancer treatment, research and education under one roof which enhances our translational research pipeline,” said Professor Johnstone.

The grants will support the Victorian Cancer Plan 2020-2024, which aims to improve cancer survival rates and achieve equitable health outcomes for those with cancer.

Congratulations to Dr Kathleen Pishas on being the top applicant for the mid-career award, and to Drs Yu-Kuan (Tony) Huang, Andrew Cox, David Liu, Sarat Chander on receiving these important grants.

Read more about the grants received by Peter Mac Researchers and their research proposals below.

Low-Survival Cancer Philanthropic Research Fellowships

Dr Kathleen Pishas - Delving deep: uncovering genomic mechanisms driving rare low surviving ovarian cancers
Low Grade Serous Ovarian Carcinoma (LGSOC) is a rare form of ovarian cancer associated with poor survival. For the past 30 years, current treatment strategies have been based on therapies used for more common types of ovarian cancer, however these treatments fail in 70 percent of LGSOC patients. Using the world’s largest cohort of LGSOC patient samples this study will look at what DNA changes cause LGSOC. FDA approved drugs that can target these changes will then be tested to offer new treatment avenues. The study is designed so results can be applied immediately to rapidly transform LGSOC clinical management and improve survival of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Early Career Research Fellowships (Biomedical)

Dr Yu-Kuan (Tony) Huang - Enhancing Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell efficacy against solid tumours
Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a treatment approach which involves the education of patients’ own T cells to recognise and attack tumours. This approach is highly successful in treating some blood cancers but not against solid tumours. Evidence from the Beavis lab suggests that targeting the lymph node adjacent to the tumour could be the key to enhancing CAR T-cell activation and function. This project aims to identify key regulators associated with CAR T-cell activation in the lymph nodes and approaches to target lymph nodes to improve CAR T-cell efficacy against solid tumours.

Mid-Career Research Fellowships (Biomedical)

Dr Andrew Cox - Exploring the role that metabolism and plasticity play in NRF2-driven liver cancer
Liver cancer is one of the deadliest cancers and arises from a combination of genetic mutations that conspire with environmental risk factors. Together, these genetic and environmental factors reprogram the metabolism of cancer cells to drive tumour progression. In liver cancer, the NRF2 pathway is frequently activated by mutations or environmental factors. Despite this understanding, the role that metabolism plays in NRF2-driven liver cancer is poorly understood. In this project Dr Cox will seek to discover how NRF2-induced changes in metabolism initiate changes in normal cells to become cancer cells. With this knowledge, he hopes to identify metabolic vulnerabilities that can be targeted as therapies against liver cancer.

Dr David Liu - A sensitive test to detect the spread of stomach and oesophageal cancers in the peritoneal cavity: A prospective multicentre clinical trial
An accurate test to detect the early spread of stomach and oesophageal cancer in the abdominal cavity (peritoneum) is urgently needed. Peritoneal tumour DNA (ptDNA) is cancer-derived DNA detectable in peritoneal washings (a procedure used to detect cancer cells). This study will recruit 200 patients with stomach and oesophageal cancer, and test their peritoneal washings collected as part of routine investigation for ptDNA. Two novel methods to detect ptDNA will be compared and correlated to ptDNA status with patient outcomes. This study will produce an accurate molecular test to detect microscopic peritoneal cancer deposits. This information will facilitate patient counselling, inform decision-making, and personalise cancer care.

Palliative Care Cancer Research Grants

Dr Sarat Chander - Evaluating Partially Ablative Body Radiotherapy (PABR) as a novel palliative approach for large inoperable and incurable, localised or metastatic sarcomas
Patients who have bulky, inoperable tumours often experience symptoms resulting from the pressure exerted by these tumours. This leads to decreased quality of life and poses challenges for caregivers and healthcare providers. This study uses a novel technique for delivering palliative radiotherapy, which delivers significantly higher radiation doses to the central region of the tumour while maintaining a lower dose to the surrounding areas. In comparison to conventional palliative radiotherapy, this approach has the potential to provide superior symptom relief, tumour shrinkage, longer response duration and improve quality of life without increasing toxicity, even in patients with poor performance status.