As part of the Centre for Cancer Imaging, the Hicks laboratory uses genomic approaches and in vivo imaging of tumour biology in models of human cancer to develop new therapies and improve imaging technologies, for application in cancer patients.

Research projects

Genomic studies in neuroendocrine tumour

Phaeochromocytoma and paraganglioma (PPGL) are two related tumour types that originate from the sympathetic and parasympathetic tissues of the adrenal gland or extra-adrenal paraganglia. These tumours frequently produce excess hormones that cause significant morbidity for patients and secondary life-threatening ailments. PPGL tumours are highly heritable and the disease has been linked more than 16 causative genes. We aim to identify new familial PPGL predisposition genes and understand why only some patients develop metastatic disease.

Understanding the biology of Merkel cell carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a highly aggressive and often fatal neuroendocrine skin cancer linked to viral infection and excessive sun exposure. With a view to developing better treatments for MCC, we seek to better understand the biology of this disease, especially the viral-negative subtype. While immunotherapy has shown great promise in early clinical trials for the treatment of MCC, it is not effective for some patients. We seek to understand why only some tumours induce a strong immune response or will respond to immunotherapy, and also to investigate new approaches involving the use of radionuclide therapy or other molecular-targeted drugs.

Novel therapeutic strategies for neuroendocrine tumour

Peptide receptor radionuclide therapy is an emerging therapeutic modality for neuroendocrine tumours. Using radiolabelled peptides that selectively target a cell surface receptor typically expressed by these tumours, radionuclide therapy is highly effective in treating this heterogeneous group of cancers. We are exploring the effects of combining novel targeted therapies with radionuclide therapy, to identify novel effective therapeutic regimens to better treat this disease.


Dr Carleen Cullinane, Senior Scientist
Dr Richard Tothill, Senior Research Officer
Dr Kelly Waldeck, Research Officer
Dr Trish Dwight, Visiting Postdoctoral Scientist

Key publications

Flynn A, Dwight T, Harris J, Benn D, Zhou L, Hogg A, Catchpoole D, James P, Duncan EL, Trainer A, Gill AJ, Clifton-Bligh R, Hicks RJ, Tothill RW (2016). Pheo-Type: A Diagnostic Gene-expression Assay for the Classification of Pheochromocytoma and Paraganglioma. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 101(3):1034-43.

Wong SQ, Waldeck K, Vergara IA, Schröder J, Madore J, Wilmott JS, Colebatch AJ, De Paoli-Iseppi R, Li J, Lupat R, Semple T, Arnau GM, Fellowes A, Leonard JH, Hruby G, Mann GJ, Thompson JF, Cullinane C, Johnston M, Shackleton M, Sandhu S, Bowtell DD, Johnstone RW, Fox SB, McArthur GA, Papenfuss AT, Scolyer RA, Gill AJ, Hicks RJ, Tothill RW (2015). UV-Associated Mutations Underlie the Etiology of MCV-Negative Merkel Cell Carcinomas. Cancer Res. 75(24):5228-34.

Flynn A, Benn D, Clifton-Bligh R, Robinson B, Trainer AH, James P, Hogg A, Waldeck K, George J, Li J, Fox SB, Gill AJ, McArthur G, Hicks RJ, Tothill RW (2015). The genomic landscape of phaeochromocytoma. J Pathol. 236(1):78-89.

Paterson BM, Buncic G, McInnes LE, Roselt P, Cullinane C, Binns DS, Jeffery CM, Price RI, Hicks RJ, Donnelly PS (2015). Bifunctional 64Cu-labelled macrobicyclic cage amine isothiocyanates for immuno-positron emission tomography. Dalton Trans. 44(11):4901-9.

Lewin J, Cullinane C, Akhurst T, Waldeck K, Watkins DN, Rao A, Eu P, Mileshkin L, Hicks RJ (2015). Peptide receptor chemoradionuclide therapy in small cell carcinoma: from bench to bedside. Eur J Nucl Med Mol Imaging. 42(1):25-32.

Cullinane C, Waldeck KL, Binns D, Bogatyreva E, Bradley DP, de Jong R, McArthur GA, Hicks RJ (2014). Preclinical FLT-PET and FDG-PET imaging of tumor response to the multi-targeted Aurora B kinase inhibitor, TAK-901. Nucl Med Biol. 41(2):148-54.

Research programs