In Sarah-Jane Dawson's laboratory, researchers aim to develop personalised biomarkers and treatment approaches to improve outcomes for patients with cancer.

In Sarah-Jane Dawson's laboratory, researchers aim to develop personalised biomarkers and treatment approaches to improve outcomes for patients with cancer. Our research interests lie in understanding the evolution of cancer and using this information to develop molecular biomarkers for clinical application, including early detection, risk stratification and disease monitoring. The major focus of our research is the development of blood-based biomarkers to enable personalised disease monitoring and facilitate therapeutic decisions in both solid and haematological malignancies.

Sarah-Jane Dawson Laboratory
Sarah-Jane Dawson Laboratory

Cancers evolve during disease progression and under the selective pressure of therapy. Our ability to continually monitor cancer is critical to guide optimal therapeutic choices. Many cancers shed small amounts of DNA (called circulating tumour DNA or ctDNA) into the patient's bloodstream. It is now possible to accurately characterise the features of ctDNA, providing a comprehensive snapshot of the genomic landscape of the underlying tumour from a simple blood test. The measurement of ctDNA levels, and our ability to monitor how these levels change over time, can be used as a marker of disease progression or response to therapy. Our laboratory is focused on developing ctDNA as a minimally invasive ‘liquid biopsy’ alternative to tissue biopsies for use in cancer diagnostics and management.

Whilst circulating biomarkers hold great promise in cancer management, substantial effort is still required to understand their clinical application in various contexts. Our research program employs ctDNA based approaches to define tumour response kinetics and the mutational landscape at multiple time-points during a patient’s treatment, thus providing a powerful tool to define, understand and eventually overcome the molecular events that underpin resistance to current and emerging therapies. Moreover, our program focuses on establishing the clinical utility of ctDNA testing through appropriately designed translational research studies and prospective clinical trials, to facilitate the routine implementation of these approaches into clinical practice.


Dr Stephen Wong, Senior Research Officer, Postdoctoral Fellow
Ms Sarah Ftouni, Research Assistant, Lab Manager
Dr Paul Yeh, Haematologist, Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr Dineika Chandrananda, Bioinformatician, Postdoctoral Fellow
Ms Chen-Fang Weng, Research Assistant
Ms Annie Ko, Research Assistant
Mr Jerick Guinto, Research Assistant
Ms Sushma Chandrashekar, Research Assistant
Ms Miriam Yeung, Bioinformatician, Research Assistant
Ms Cassandra Litchfield, Bioinformatician, Research Assistant
Dr Lavinia Tan, Medical Oncologist, PhD Student
Dr Louisa Lo, Medical Oncologist, PhD Student
Mr Sebastian Hollizeck, Bioinformatician, PhD Student
Dr Clare Gould, Haematologist, Postdoctoral Fellow
Ms Jessica Han, Research Assistant
Dr Rishu Agarwal, Haematologist, Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow

Key publications

NJ. Dharan, P. Yeh, M. Bloch, M. Yeung M, D. Baker, J. Guinto, N. Roth, S. Ftouni, K. Ognenovska, D. Smith, JF. Hoy, I. Woolley, C. Pell, DJ. Templeton, N. Fraser, N. Rose, J. Hutchinson, K. Petoumenos*, SJ. Dawson*, MN. Polizzotto*, MA. Dawson* - “HIV is associated with an increased risk of age-related clonal haematopoiesis among older adults: the ARCHIVE study”.  Nat Medicine. 202 June 7. Online ahead of print.

Zivanovic Bujak, C-F. Weng, M.J. Silva, M. Yeung, L. Lo, S. Ftouni, C. Litchfield, Y-A. Ko, K. Kuykhoven, C. Van Geelen, S. Chandrashekar, M.A. Dawson, S. Loi, S.Q. Wong and SJ. Dawson* - “Circulating tumor DNA in metastatic breast cancer to guide clinical trial enrolment and precision oncology: a cohort study”. PLOS Medicine, 2020, Oct 1; 17(10);e1003363.

R. Agarwal, Y-C. Chan, C.S. Tam, T. Hunter, D. Vassiliadis, C. Teh, R. Thijssen, P. Yeh, S.Q. Wong, S. Ftouni, E.Y.N. Lam, M.A. Anderson, C. Pott, O. Gilan, C.C. Bell, K. Knezevic, P. Blombery, K. Rayeroux, A. Zordan, J. Li, D.C. S. Huang, M. Wall, J.F. Seymour, D. Gray, A.W. Roberts, M.A. Dawson* and SJ. Dawson* - "Dynamic molecular monitoring reveals that SWI/SNF mutations mediate resistance to ibrutinib plus venetoclax in mantle cell lymphoma". Nature Medicine. 2019 Jan; 25(1):119-129.

L. Tan, S. Sandhu, R.J. Lee, J. Li, J. Callahan, S. Ftouni, N, Dhomen, P. Middlehurst, A. Wallace, J. Raleigh, A. Hatzimihalis, M.A Henderson, M. Shackleton, A. Haydon, V. Mar, D.E. Gyorki, D. Oudit, M.A. Dawson, R.J. Hicks, P. Lorigan, G.A. McArthur, R. Marais*, S.Q. Wong*, and SJ. Dawson* - “Prediction and monitoring of relapse in Stage III melanoma using circulating tumour DNA” – Annals of Oncology. 2019 May 1; 30(5): 804-814.

F. Rothé, M.J. Silva, D. Venet, C. Campbell, I. Bradbury, G. Rouas, E. de Azambuja, M. Maetens, D. Fumagalli, V. Rodrik-Outmezguine, S. Di Cosimo, D.D. Rosa, S.K. Chia, A.M. Wardley, T. Ueno, W. Janni, J. Huober, J. Baselga, M. Piccart, S. Loi, C. Sotiriou, SJ Dawson* and M. Ignatiadis* - “Circulating tumor DNA in HER2 amplified breast cancer: a translational research substudy of the NeoALTTO phase 3 trial”.  Clinical Cancer Research. 2019 Jun 15; 25(12): 3581-3588.

S. Wong, JM. Raleigh, J. Callahan, IA. Vergara, S. Ftouni, A. Hatzimihalis, AJ. Colebatch, J. Li, T. Semple, K. Doig, C. Mintoff, D. Sinha, P. Yeh, M. Silva, K. Alsop, H. Thorne, DD. Bowtell, DE. Gyorki, G. MirArnau, C. Cullinane, D. Kee, B. Brady, F. Kelleher, MA. Dawson, AT. Papenfuss, M. Shackleton, R.J. Hicks, GA. McArthur, S. Sandhu* and SJ. Dawson* - "Circulating tumor DNA analysis and functional imaging provide complementary approaches for comprehensive disease monitoring in metastatic melanoma" - Journal of Clinical Oncology Precision Oncology. 2017, April 27.

P. Yeh, T. Hunter, D. Sinha, S. Ftouni, E. Wallach, D. Jiang, YC. Chan, SQ. Wong, MJ. Silva, R. Vedururu, K. Doig, E. Lam, G. MirArnau, T. Semple, M. Wall, A. Zivanovic, R. Agarwal, P. Petrone, K. Jones, D. Westerman, P. Blombery, J. Seymour, A. Papenfuss, MA. Dawson, CS. Tam, SJ. Dawson* - "Circulating tumor DNA reflects treatment response and clonal evolution in chronic lymphocytic leukemia" - Nature Communications. 2017, Mar 17; (8):14756.

P. Yeh, M. Dickenson, S. Ftouni, T. Hunter, D. Sinha, S. Wong, R. Agarwal, R. Veduru, K. Doig, C. Fong, P. Blombery, D. Westerman, M. Dawson* and SJ. Dawson* - "Molecular disease monitoring using circulating tumour DNA in myelodysplastic syndromes" - Blood. 2017, Mar 23; 129(12): 1685-1690.

Research programs