Peter Mac News

Peter Mac researchers receive $13 million in NHMRC Investigator Grants

03 May 2024

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Five Peter Mac researchers have received more than $13 million in highly sought after NHMRC Investigator Grants for projects spanning basic science research and clinical medicine and science research.

Professor Ricky Johnstone, Executive Director of Cancer Research at Peter Mac, said obtaining an investigator grant is incredibly competitive and it speaks to the quality of science and the expertise and leadership of the successful applicants.

“I would like to congratulate Professors Ben Hogan, Alicia Oshlack, Sarah-Jane Dawson, Ben Solomon and Mark Dawson on their outstanding research proposals, and I look forward to seeing the results of their work in the coming years.”

“We also acknowledge and congratulate those Peter Mac researchers who submitted excellent applications, many of whom received assessor scores that would have been within the funding range in any other year," Ricky said.

The following research projects were successful:

Professor Ben Hogan - Mechanisms to promote lymphatic vessel growth in tissue repair and disease

Lymphatic vessels in the body are responsible for draining tissue fluids and transporting immune cells.

One in five cancer survivors suffer from a debilitating disorder called lymphoedema caused by insufficient lymphatic growth and fluid drainage post cancer treatment.

There is a clinical need to promote the formation of functional lymphatic vessel networks in patients to help with the management of lymphoedema and other diseases reliant on lymphatic vessels.

This research program will characterise mechanisms and methods to promote robust lymphatic formation.

The outcomes of the research will help with the development of future therapeutic approaches to manage and treat lymphoedema and a range of other diseases.

Professor Alicia Oshlack - Transcriptomics at exquisite resolution

Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) is like a messenger in our bodies carrying instructions from our DNA to tell cells what proteins to make and when to make them.

RNA helps make sure the right proteins are made at the right time to keep our bodies healthy and working correctly.

Cancer and other diseases can occur when there are mistakes in our RNA.

We now have the technologies to sequence or read millions of RNA molecules across millions of individual cells.

From this we can learn about a variety of diseases including mechanisms that drive cancer and the cells that kill cancer.

However, these data sets are huge, so we need robust methods that involve the use of computers to help us perform tasks and solve problems.  These computational methods coupled with statistical analysis will help us make sense of this data to understand more about diseases.

This proposal aims to enable deeper understanding of diseases through the development of computational approaches.


Professor Sarah-Jane Dawson – Liquid biopsy multi-omic approaches to optimise precision medicine in cancer 

DNA that has broken out of a cell can be found in the bloodstream of individuals with cancer (so called circulating tumour DNA or ctDNA) and is increasingly being explored as a way to monitor disease and track adaptive changes to cancer therapies.

Circulating tumour DNA provides new opportunities to not only monitor tumour dynamics and molecular changes, but to also gain key insights into the host immune response to cancer.  

Circulating tumour DNA can be measured with a blood test and is called a liquid biopsy. One of the greatest advantages of liquid biopsy assays is that they can be studied from a simple, non-invasive blood test that can be repeated frequently at regular intervals. This makes it a great biomarker to look at for early detection of cancer, risk stratification and disease monitoring.  

As technologies improve, the wealth of information that can now be gained from liquid biopsy assays is rapidly growing but innovative strategies are needed to harness this knowledge and understand its clinical application. 

This research program will advance the use of innovative liquid biopsy approaches to improve disease monitoring and individualise treatment decisions in cancer management.


Professor Mark Dawson - Identifying and targeting epigenetic mechanisms of therapeutic resistance in cancer

The prevailing view in personalised cancer medicine suggests that cancer cell behaviour including the emergence of therapy resistance is primarily due to evolving genetic mutations.

The research conducted by Professor Dawson has challenged this doctrine and shown that epigenetic processes, which are like a set of instructions that can turn genes on or off without changing the actual DNA sequence, contribute substantially to cancer cell fitness and therapy evasion. 

This research project will examine the interaction between genetic and epigenetic processes in mediating resistance to a broad range of cancer therapies to find new strategies to improve outcomes for cancer patients.


Professor Benjamin Solomon - Advancing Precision Medicine for Lung Cancer

This research project aims to use innovative clinical and translational research to improve outcomes for patients with lung cancer, a disease that accounts for more cancer-related deaths than any other cancer in Australia.

It will look to develop new treatment strategies and understand how to match patients with the best treatments at all stages of their disease using an approach called precision medicine.

The research will use an integrated program of clinical trials with novel therapies and laboratory-based translational research to understand and overcome treatment resistance to provide lung cancer patients with the best possible outcome.