Twelve Peter Mac researchers have been awarded Investigator Grant funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to support discovery-based studies on cancer development and research into improved cancer detection and prognosis, and more precise cancer treatments.

Peter Mac’s overall success rate in the scheme was 40%, well above the national average.

Prof Ricky Johnstone, Peter Mac’s Executive Director Research, says that the standard of the grants submitted by Peter Mac researchers was simply outstanding.

“We could not be more proud of all of our scientists and clinicians who make fantastic contributions to Peter Mac’s research efforts,” says Prof Johnstone.

Marliese Alexander - Personalised risk-directed clot prevention for patients with cancer              

Blood clots are a leading cause of death among cancer patients, second only to cancer itself. This EL1 program includes clinical and laboratory studies to assess the impact of personalised clot prevention for patients receiving cancer treatments in ambulatory care settings. Laboratory studies and evaluation of outcomes among ‘real-world’ patients with cancers at high risk of developing blood clots, will improve understanding of both clots and cancer, to advance research and clinical practice.

Marian Burr - Targeting epigenetic mechanisms of immune evasion in cancer   

Proteins called MHC class I and II on the surface of cancer cells act as sensors that allow the immune system to recognise cancer cells as abnormal and destroy them. However, cancer cells have developed ways to hide from the immune system by silencing MHC class I and II. This project aims to identify ways to overcome this silencing and restore MHC class I and II to the surface of the cancer cells, allowing them to be treated with therapies that activate immune cells to eradicate the tumour.

Mark Dawson - Improving outcomes for cancer patients by targeting the epigenome

The most commonly mutated proteins in cancer involve so called epigenetic regulators, a class of proteins that regulate access to our DNA to control gene expression, DNA repair and replication. We and others have recently developed a variety of drugs to help inhibit the aberrant activity of these epigenetic proteins. My research will focus on ways to improve the efficacy of these existing drugs and find new epigenetic therapies to improve the survival of patients with a broad range of cancers.

Sarah-Jane Dawson - Circulating tumour DNA for precision medicine    

Many cancers shed small amounts of DNA (circulating tumour DNA or ctDNA) into the patient’s bloodstream. Recent technological advances now allow levels of ctDNA to be accurately measured in the blood. Changes in ctDNA levels have potential to be used as specific markers of disease progression and/or response to cancer therapy. This research will advance the use of ctDNA to serially follow patients and individualise treatment decisions in cancer management across several cancer types.

Stephen Fox - Translating molecular pathology into cancer diagnostics 

Precision oncology, the treatment of cancer patients selected with a particular molecular characteristic (biomarker) matched to a therapy, has transformed the treatment of cancer patients. However, many biomarkers used for clinical care are not reliable and do not perform their role. I will translate new research tests from fundamental discovery, clinical trials and the development of novel diagnostics using innovative high throughput laboratory technologies to enhance patient outcomes.

Kieren Harvey - The Hippo pathway in development and cancer               

Appropriate growth of organs is essential for life and can go awry in diseases such as cancer. A crucial regulator of organ size and cancer that I co-discovered is the Hippo pathway. I aim to understand how this pathway relays information and controls gene expression to regulate organ size, and its role in mesothelioma and other human cancers. A better understanding of Hippo’s role in organ growth and cancer will allow it to be targeted for therapeutic benefit in human diseases.

Sherene Loi - Optimizing immunotherapy treatment for breast cancer patients

The first steps in introducing immunotherapy for breast cancer patients have been taken in 2019. However, there is much work to do optimize immunotherapy for all breast cancer patients. My research, involving both lab and clinical trials, will develop new treatment strategies and identify new biomarkers to distinguish responders and non-responders. This will allow individualised selection of patients for evaluation of different immunotherapy approaches, with the aim of improving their survival.

Alicia Oshlack - Harnessing the power of single cell sequencing to advance biomedical research

Our ability to sequence the DNA code has advanced rapidly in the last 10 years but this data is large and complex and we need advanced computational and statistical methods to analyse these data. Now we are able to generate this data from individual cells. I will provide the analysis approached that are required in order to use this data to understand the complexity of tissues at a cellular resolution. This will provide deep molecular insights into development and disease.

Kelly Phillips - Reducing the Burden of Breast Cancer Through Precision Prevention, Targeted Treatment and Enhanced Survivorship

Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 Australian women. Of all the cancers, breast cancer results in the largest number of years of healthy life lost from death and illness. My research will reduce this unacceptable burden of breast cancer for women and their families.  Spanning prevention, through treatment to survivorship, it will facilitate reduced breast cancer incidence, more effective treatments and enhanced understanding of the effects of new treatments on ovarian function and fertility.

Ben Teh - Minimising infective complications in the era of immune-based cancer therapies through precision, prediction and prevention

***Funded by MRFF***

New cancer treatments are based on enhancing the immune system. However infections continue to affect many patients; disrupting their care, removing survival benefit from new cancer treatments and causing early deaths. With immune based therapies, types of infections seen and how to prevent them are still unknown. The proposed research will gain new knowledge of infections, study new technologies to detect and predict future infection risk and better ways to prevent infections from occurring.

Stephen Wong - Defining the plasma methylome to guide melanoma treatment

This project aims to characterise circulating methylation patterns (chemical modifications to DNA) from the blood of melanoma patients. Through this ground-breaking research, I will establish a minimally-invasive and simple blood test that will predict response and resistance from treatment, provide a greater understanding of the disease, reshape the treatment management of melanoma patients and lead to improved patient outcomes.

Paul Yeh - Blood based detection and monitoring of pre-malignant clonal haematopoiesis to predict clinical outcomes in the immunocompromised

***Funded by MRFF***

Clonal haematopoiesis is when genetic mutations (alterations in the DNA) can be detected in blood stem cells of an individual and can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and death. This study looks to explore how clonal haematopoiesis is formed and how it leads to adverse health outcomes. We will identify risk factors for clonal haematopoiesis which will guide the development of future screening programs and research into how this process can be better managed.