Peter Mac News

Peter Mac awarded five Grants-in-Aid to boost cancer research

29 February 2024

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Almost $1.8 million has been awarded to five Peter Mac Researchers by the Cancer Council Victoria (CCV) to improve a range of different cancer treatments. 

Grants-in-Aid are awarded each year to fund high quality research into the causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Professor Ricky Johnstone, Executive Director of Cancer Research, said that Peter Mac’s very high success rate for CCV Grants in Aid demonstrates the innovative nature and high calibre of research conducted at Peter Mac.

“This year almost half of all our applications that proceeded to a full application were granted funding,” he said. 

“The projects range from the use of artificial intelligence in radiotherapy, to improving the longevity and efficacy of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells, and new discoveries in gastroesophageal cancers.” 

The following researchers have received funding for their respective projects:

Associate Professor Paul Beavis – ‘Generation of CAR T cells with improved metabolic fitness and persistence.’ This project will seek to enhance the efficacy of immune based therapy, CAR T-cell therapy. The CAR allows the immune cells to ‘recognise’ and subsequently kill tumour cells. Despite the significant potential of CAR T-cell therapy, it is yet to have a significant impact in the treatment of other solid cancers such as sarcoma and lung cancer. One reason for this is that CAR T-cells fail to survive in the patient for extended periods. This project will investigate the utility of an exciting new approach we have identified to enhance the ability of CAR T-cells to persist for extended periods. Read more about the Beavis Lab.

Dr Mathieu Gaudreault – ‘Next-generation radiotherapy treatment planning with artificial intelligence.’ Patients prescribed radiotherapy receive a radiation dose according to a treatment plan that aims to eliminate the tumour and reduce side effects. This project will build an artificial intelligence (AI) model to generate personalised treatment plans for patients receiving radiation therapy. The research aims to significantly reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment as well as improve the quality of radiotherapy treatment plans and the accuracy of the delivered dose. 

Dr Ian Parish – ‘Enhancing CAR T-cell efficacy through modulation of IKZF transcription factors.’ CAR T-cell therapy is where a patients’ immune cells are engineered to attack and kill cancer cells, but this form of therapy can fail. In mice studies we have found that deleting molecular factors called IKZF factors from CAR T-cells circumvents therapy failure and leads to better tumour control. This research proposal aims to understand why these engineered CAR T-cells are more effective, and to confirm that human CAR T-cells lacking IKZF factors are similarly more effective. Our goal is a future clinical trial using CAR T-cells lacking IKZF factors to treat cancer in people. Read more about the Ian Parish Lab.

Professor Ilia Voskoboinik – ‘How to curb cytokine release syndrome in patients undergoing Iimmunotherapy.’ Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) is the most severe and potentially fatal complication of immunotherapy treatments like CAR T-cell therapy. This is of particular concern in patients where co-morbidities and older age can result in less tolerance of the side-effects caused by CRS toxicity. The syndrome can affect up to 90 percent of patients, but its mechanism is unknown. This project will explore the mechanisms of CRS and is aimed at developing novel approaches to overcoming this complication of CAR T-cell therapy. This will ultimately make it a safer and more accessible improving the quality of treatment and wellbeing of all patients with a blood cancer.

Dr David Liu – ‘Finding and understanding the optimal treatment for gastroesophageal cancers.’ Cancers at the junction of the oesophagus and stomach (GOJ cancers) are treated with surgery in combination with chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy. However, information comparing the efficacy and safety of the two approaches is lacking. This leads to significant variations in practice as clinicians lack the evidence to determine the best treatment for their patient. This study will use real world data from an international collaborative research network to compare the clinical efficacy, tolerability and cancer response to chemotherapy in comparison to chemotherapy with radiotherapy and immunotherapy. Moreover, the research will determine how immune cells within GOJ cancers respond to the different treatments to inform the growing use of immunotherapies. Overall, this study will serve to inform clinicians of the optimal, personalised treatment plan for their patients.