Peter Mac’s prestigious Lea Award recognises an exceptional female research leader in her early to mid-career, and provides support for ongoing development.

Named after the Latin word for “Lioness” and instituted by Chief Executive Dale Fisher in 2016, the award seeks to address the disparity in women holding mid-to-senior positions in research.

Awardees receive financial support to enable opportunities for career advancement.

The inaugural Lea Award was presented to Dr Kylie Gorringe - Team Leader in the Cancer Genomics program and a Victorian Cancer Agency Mid-Year Fellow.

Applications for the 2017/18 Lea Award will open shortly.

Q&A with Dr Gorringe

Q. What did winning the inaugural Lea Medal mean to you?
It was a huge recognition and validation of me as an emerging research leader, particularly since I can see how many talented women there are working around me. So to be counted as a leading member of that group was astounding and a big deal for me. It provides a massive psychological boost to counter the insidious effects of “imposter syndrome”, which often besets me.

Q. What is your research vision?
My research is developing along highly translational lines that align with the strategic plan for the Peter Mac. It is patient-centred in a strong Women’s Cancer program, with close links to the new Centre for Clinical Cancer Genomics. In the immediate future, I will be pursuing the following translational goals: a) biomarkers for benign breast disease upgrade and progression b) prognostic assays for breast DCIS and c) therapeutic strategies in rare ovarian cancer subtypes. In parallel, I aim to understand the biology behind the biomarkers and targets using functional assays. Each of these goals will ultimately lead to clinical trials for the targets and biomarkers discovered. I aim to drive such developments as a Team and later Group Leader of a laboratory of personalised cancer medicine.

Q. How do you plan to use the award to advance your career in research?
By raising my national and international profile – it looks amazing on my CV. The financial support also enables me to attend conferences or meetings that I might not otherwise attend. It helps my research group to be happy and productive by sponsoring their attendance at conferences and training courses. It also provides some flexible research funds to support the occasional risky - but high-potential - experiment to be done that wouldn’t get funding through the normal channels. For example, we are testing a single-cell sequencing protocol for DCIS which will expand our understanding of the genetic heterogeneity of the disease.

Q. What have you been able to achieve to date?
I’ve attended three national conferences (ANZGOG, MOGA, KConFab FCC) with oral presentations at each. The ANZGOG conference was especially useful as I made contact with several ovarian cancer researchers and initiated a new research project where we will be growing tumour organoids from ovarian cancer patients in order to evaluate therapies. I will also be attending (along with my PhD student) the San Antonio Breast Cancer Conference in December. I was able to fund my students' attendance at the VCCC Symposium and used some funds to take on a new UROP student who is developing a bioinformatics tool that will greatly enhance our ability to interpret genetic profiles of tumours (collaboration with Dr David Goode). I’ve also noticed a significant increase in applications for new PhD students, which has led to two candidates currently applying for scholarships and they should both start next year. Finally, I used some of the funds to pay for two of my recent papers to be published as “open access”, meaning anyone in the world can read them without having to pay for a journal subscription.

Q. What is your message to other women looking to pursue a career in research?
Study what inspires you, have confidence in your ability, and don’t be afraid to get help from senior mentors and your peer group.