Peter Mac Research is gaining two new star recruits this month. Prof Ben Hogan and A/Prof Belinda Parker will join the Peter Mac team, bringing with them their world-leading research into the way that cancers can spread and respond to different types of treatments.
Prof Hogan will lead a team of scientists investigating and targeting the formation of lymphatic vessels, which can act as channels for cancer spread throughout the body (metastasis). He also takes on the position of co-head of Peter Mac’s Organogenesis and Cancer Research program.
Prof Hogan's research will use start-of-the-art genetic approaches and high resolution cellular studies to discover new molecules and mechanisms that control the formation of lymphatic vessels (lymphangiogenesis) in development and cancer.
His move to Peter Mac also marks the beginning of a brand new research project using large scale gene discovery to uncover mechanisms controlling the formation and function of the blood-brain barrier, which can be a significant challenge for delivery of cancer therapeutics to the brain and serve as a key barrier in metastasis.
Prof Hogan is an expert on the development of blood vessels and the lymphatic system, employing zebrafish and mice as model systems of development and disease.
He completed his PhD at The University of Melbourne and Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in 2005 before a move to the Netherlands to undertake postdoctoral studies at the Hubrecht Institute for Stem Cell and Developmental Biology.
In 2010 he founded his own research lab within the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, with a focus on the development of blood and lymphatic vessels, including new ways to visualise these processes in real time.
Prof Hogan focuses on fundamental discovery work with translational outcomes that have led to the characterisation of rare vascular disorders and discovery of new targets in metastasis.
He has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Postdoctoral Investigators Award from the National Association of Research Fellows of the NHMRC (2009), Queensland Heart Foundation Researcher of the Year (2014) and ANZSCDB Emerging Leader Award (2016).
Prof Hogan is a current NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and his work is funded by the NHMRC, ARC and Bright Focus Foundation.
As a Peter Mac alumnus, other top recruit, A/Prof Belinda Parker, brings back to Peter Mac her ground-breaking research into the study of how cancers grow, spread and interact with their surrounding environment, with a focus on development of prognostic biomarkers and metastasis-targeted therapeutics.
After postdoctoral training in the Department of Oncology at Johns Hopkins University, USA, A/Prof Parker was first recruited to Peter Mac in 2002, later starting her own research group in 2012.
In 2013 she moved to La Trobe University as a group leader, and went on to become Leader of the Cancer Theme at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science where she headed the Cancer Microenvironment and Immunology Laboratory.
Her research is focused on converting lab-based findings into improvements to clinical cancer care, a key reason for her move back to Peter Mac this month.
In particular, A/Prof Parker’s team is interested in how cancer cells use an important immune cytokine, type I interferon (IFN), to ‘talk’ to the tumour microenvironment.
Her group was the first to discover that loss of IFN signals coming from tumour cells is a key contributor to cancer progression and metastasis.
IFN can impact the visibility of cancer cells and also act to control the activity of the body’s immune system, playing an important role in determining responses to the new wave of immune-based cancer treatments.
A/Prof Parker’s lab will study the proteins that control IFN in cancer cells, looking in both humans and animal models. These will be assessed as new biomarkers and targets for precision immune therapies in aggressive primary breast cancers and other malignancies, and breast and prostate cancer bone metastases.
In studies about to be underway, A/Prof Parker has also secured commercial collaborations to lead investigator-initiated trials of immune-modulating compounds in breast cancer.
A/Prof Parker has received numerous awards throughout her career including an ARC Future Fellowship (2017), NHMRC Career Development Award (2009-2013) and Peter Mac’s Joseph Sambrook Award for Research Excellence (2015).
She is a current Victorian Cancer Agency Mid-Career Fellow, with her research supported by the NHMRC, Cancer Council Victoria, Movember/PCFA and the VMRAF.
We extend to Prof Hogan and A/Prof Parker a very warm welcome to Peter Mac.