Collaborating for cancer breakthroughs

Posted 30 Nov 2017.


A new grant in our research funding program that's bringing together the brightest minds of WA's cancer research community is already making an enormous difference.

Dr Elin Gray, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Edith Cowan University, is leading a project team investigating cancer cells in the blood of melanoma patients, thanks to funding from our Collaborative Cancer Grant Scheme.

The team, which includes Dr Katie Meehan from The University of WA, Dr Jason Waithman from Telethon Kids Institute and Dr Tarek Meniawy at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, believes the cells and the way they communicate with each other could contain vital information to guide treatment and prevent the need for more intrusive tests.

Dr Gray said the grant has helped to solidify the relationship between the four researchers and has ensured they're continually discussing strategies to advance their project.

"We've been aware of each other's work over the years but up until now, we've never had the opportunity to work together on a project," Dr Gray said.

"Our ongoing discussions are so beneficial because we're combining our expertise and bringing different perspectives to the project."

Our President and eminent liver cancer researcher Professor George Yeoh said these new grants are an innovative and important initiative for the future of cancer research, empowering researchers in the early stages of their cancer research career with the necessary experience to take their findings further.

"These grants are preparing researchers for the ‘bigger game' because it allows them to generate preliminary data that will underpin project grant applications for larger Cancer Council WA grants and even National Health and Medical Research Council grants," Professor Yeoh explained.

"The value of sharing equipment, ideas and expertise from across organisations should not be underestimated."

Dr Gray said the team wanted to maximise the success rate of melanoma treatment by understanding the biology of how cancer cells and the immune system communicate.



"Together we're combining our expertise to test for the exosomes - small vesicles derived from a tumour that can be found in the blood - which can tell a lot about what's going on with a tumour and what level of disease a patient may have," Dr Gray said.

"If we can find more information in the blood of patients it could be useful in diagnosing the disease or guiding treatment for melanoma patients."

The study aims to investigate whether the cancer cells can transfer resistance to treatment from one cell to another.

Another aspect will analyse if these exosomes influence the way a patient's immune system responds to a tumour.

"We know the immune response is critical for controlling the tumour growth, so it therefore provides a guide for treatment and can enhance the response to immunotherapy.

We're also keen to investigate if we can use exosomes to enhance the way a patient will respond to treatment," she said.

"We're hoping to be able to generate preliminary data from this pilot study which we can then use to apply for funding for a larger study and eventually a clinical trial," said Dr Gray.

The Collaborative Cancer Grant Scheme is funded in partnership by Cancer Council WA, Government of Western Australia, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, The University of Western Australia, Telethon Kids Institute and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

See our full list of 2016-17 successful research funding here

This story was featured in our 2016 - 2017 Annual Review. To read more about our achievements over the past year and the inspiring people that have helped us along the way check out Annual Review here.

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