Despite our best research efforts, outcomes for most brain cancer have not improved significantly over the last 30 years but Dr Jim Whittle believes that is about to change.

Dr Whittle, a medical oncologist specialising in neuro-oncology at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Laboratory Head at WEHI, said work happening in the Parkville Precinct is on the verge of making great advances in the treatment of brain cancer.

“One of the biggest challenges in improving brain cancer outcomes is uncovering a way for treatments to cross the blood brain barrier to destroy cancer cells,” Dr Whittle said. 

“The blood brain barrier is designed to protect the brain from infection and toxins but in brain cancer it also stops chemotherapy from entering the brain in high enough doses to be effective.”  

Research conducted by Professor Ben Hogan, Group Leader at Peter Mac, is providing new insights into how we can overcome this challenge. 

“By studying the Zebrafish, we can learn more about the circulatory system and in particular how we can get treatments across the blood brain barrier,” said Professor Hogan.

“This is an area we have been working hard on for the last five years and we are excited to be close to publishing ground-breaking research that should change the way we target the blood brain barrier and deliver treatments in brain cancer in the future,” he said.

Dr Jim Whittle
Dr Jim Whittle

May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month. Almost 2000 people in Australia are diagnosed with brain cancer each year and sadly the survival rate is only 23 percent at five years. 

According to Dr Whittle, great advances have been made in next generation immunotherapy treatments for cancers including melanoma, lung cancer and some blood cancers but these treatments have not been successful in brain cancer.

“To develop new immunotherapies for brain cancer we need to better understand the complex tumour microenvironment and the diversity that exists with brain cancer,” said Dr Whittle.

“Research being led by Associate Professor Misty Jenkins at WEHI and the research conducted by Professor Paul Neeson from Peter Mac, is also invaluable in helping us find ways of harnessing our own immune system to fight cancer.

“I want people with brain cancer to know that there is an army of researchers out there trying to solve the problem of how to better treat brain cancer,” Dr Whittle said.

“Within Melbourne there are lots of great studies being conducted so there is no need to travel overseas because the best trials are happening right here.” 

Dr Whittle, Professor Hogan and Associate Professor Jenkins are some of many researchers working collaboratively with other institutes through The Brain Cancer Centre.  The Brain Cancer Centre brings together over 50 researchers & 11 collaborative partners across the country with a single focus: that one day no lives are lost to brain cancer. 

The Brain Cancer Centre recently launched a world first clinical trial Brain-POP (brain perioperative) with research partners WEHI, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The Royal Children’s Hospital. This trial is set to transform research into new therapies for brain cancer and deliver more targeted, personalised treatment for patients.

 For more information head to