Dr Vihandha Wickramasinghe’s paradigm-shifting research focuses on understanding the fundamental biology of gene expression and how it is altered in the development of cancer cells. The goal is to find new ways to intervene when normal quality control processes within the cell go awry.
Vi’s mother died from breast cancer when he was 18 years old and - as the latest in a family of renowned Australian scientists – he is driven to understand the underlying biology of how RNA is made and how it is altered in cancer, in the hope of creating advanced attacks against the disease.
Dr Wickramasinghe was presented with a veski innovation fellowship on Monday 6 March by The Hon Philip Dalidakis, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, in the presence of national and international leaders from research, industry and government partners.
Now Head of the RNA Biology and Cancer Laboratory at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Vi was born in Canberra and educated at the University of Melbourne. He spent the past 13 years at the University of Cambridge, where he completed his PhD and Post-Doctoral studies on scholarship. While in the UK, he established his current research program investigating the molecular basis of how mRNA is selectively processed and exported from the nucleus into the cytoplasm and its emerging links to cancer. His research findings have helped generate a new and original area of research which may lead to potential new targets for anti-cancer therapy.
veski chief executive officer Julia L Page said that Dr Wickramasinghe’s outstanding track record and international reputation as an innovative cell and molecular biologist made supporting him to establish his own laboratory in Victoria a matter of significant public importance.
“Cancer is a disease where there remains an urgent need for innovative therapies based on newly discovered pathways that control cancer development. One such pathway that is altered in cancer cells is the processing of messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA plays a vital role in translating the genetic information contained in our DNA into proteins, which are essential for cells to function.
“Through his critical new research, Dr Wickramasinghe is identifying new targets for anti-cancer therapy. Awarding the veski innovation fellowship to Dr Wickramasinghe has potential value not only for Australians but for every person affected by cancer,” said Page.
“Vi’s work and this fellowship recognise the critical importance of fundamental biological research in understanding and responding to the inherent, genetic risk of cancer faced by people the world over,” according to Peter Mac’s Professor Ricky Johnstone.
“While significant resources are appropriately dedicated every year to caring for people with cancer, we also have to invest in people like Vi who are identifying and responding to the cellular-level systems that enable cancer to develop in the first place.
“I am confident that this work will result in ground-breaking new discoveries in cancer research and that Vi will make a valuable contribution to better cancer treatments in Victoria and more broadly across the world,” he said.