Peter Mac News

Peter Mac’s Shom Goel becomes Australia’s first Era of Hope Scholar Award winner

27 March 2024

Peter Mac Associate Professor Shom Goel has won a substantial USD $3 million (AUD $4.5 million) United States Department of Defence grant for his research into developing the next revolution in breast cancer treatment.

Associate Professor Goel is the first Australian scientist to receive the Era of Hope Scholar Award which supports individuals early in their careers who have demonstrated significant potential to effect meaningful change in breast cancer.

His research will focus on addressing a critical knowledge gap on senescent cancer cells – a specific type of “dormant” cell state - and develop therapies that can successfully target or kill these cells, which has the potential to dramatically reduce breast cancer mortality. 

Many current therapies to treat cancer induce cellular senescence. However, these senescent cancer cells can reactivate over time and resume proliferation with notoriously aggressive behaviour, which ultimately underpins the failure of existing treatments to control metastatic disease.

“Despite the importance of therapy-induced senescence (TIS) in cancer, remarkably little is known about the biology of senescent cancer cells,” Associate Professor Goel said.

“My research will study the biology of TIS in breast cancer and strive to identify novel therapies to target senescent cancer cells.

“Senescence has only recently been identified as an "emerging hallmark" of cancer. This is a unique approach, seeking to kill non-dividing rather than proliferating cells.”

The danger with senescent cancer cells is their capacity to escape their dormant state and resume proliferation, thereby fuelling tumour growth. When cancer cells escape senescence, they can demonstrate “stem-like” properties associated with drug resistance and aggressive tumour biology.

As a clinician-scientist with a history of translating fundamental laboratory discoveries into clinical trials, Associate Professor Goel’s research seeks to answer fundamental questions about senescence and aims to maximise the chance of ultimately translating this work into the clinical arena.

The Era of Hope Scholar Award is open internationally and only one or two awards are given each year, and it is rarely awarded outside of the US. The award recognises creative and innovative individuals that go beyond conventional thinking in their field to contribute towards ending breast cancer.