Career switch pays off for cancer researcher

Posted 16 Jun 2017.

                   Photographer: Andrew Ritchie – Community Newspaper Group


A drastic career change has paid dividends for Dr Sally Lansley following a research grant win in our recent cancer research funding awards.

Dr Lansley, a cancer biologist and post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Respiratory Health, has recently won one of our research grants. The $81,000 grant could lead to the development of a new, more effective treatment for people with mesothelioma.

Dr Lansley has taken an unorthodox path into cancer research. She left school midway through Year 11 to do a pre-apprenticeship in mechanics. However, she became interested in science while doing some casual work picking flowers where she also spent time in the tissue lab of the flower farm. The tissue lab experience on the farm prompted Sally to return to school as a mature age student when she befriended a fellow student who was being treated for leukaemia. Accompanying that friend to some of her chemotherapy sessions sparked an interest in and passion for cancer research.

“This is an exciting field to work in because I genuinely believe further mesothelioma research can make a positive difference in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease,” said Dr Lansley.

Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world. It’s a cancer which is most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos fibres (about 90 per cent of cases) and the five-year survival rates for mesothelioma are very poor (approximately 3 per cent of men are alive five years after diagnosis and 12 per cent of women).

Dr Lansley’s project involves examining how to develop a more effective treatment for mesothelioma patients through improving their immune response to a particular type of treatment. Her project is building on previous findings from her laboratory at the Institute, regarding the role of a gene (FGF9) produced by malignant mesothelioma tumours, in reducing the body’s natural anti-tumour response.

“We’ve shown this particular gene is more highly expressed in mesothelioma than other cancers.”

Preliminary data from the study has shown that particular molecules changed during treatment which prompted the research team to investigate how they could target those molecules by combination therapy with the receptor inhibitor. She hopes results from this project will help pave the way for a clinical trial.

“Because there is already a clinical trial underway in our group (looking at the effect of the FGF9 receptor inhibitor on its own) we will be able to quickly translate our laboratory findings by testing them in a clinical setting,” said Dr Lansley. “We are in a unique position in our Institute with regard to ‘translational research’, meaning the ability to translate what we see in the lab to a clinical setting and vice versa.”

Dr Lansley who has been working in this research field for the last 14 years, said she was ecstatic to receive one of our research grants because it meant she has the opportunity to contribute further to an important finding that had already been made in her lab. Dr Lansley’s grant was part of $4 million in research funding announced recently.

You can find out more about our research grant recipients here.

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