Two young cancer researchers take out prestigious WA award

Cancer Council WA is proud to announce the 2020 Cancer Council WA's Early Career Cancer Researcher of the Year Award has been awarded to two recipients; 35-year-old Dr Vinicius Cavalheri from Curtin University and 28 year-old Dr Rachael Zemek from Telethon Kids Institute (previously at NCARD - National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases).

Cancer Council WA CEO Ashley Reid said both recipients had made significant advancement in cancer research over the preceding 18 months.

"We are very excited to announce our Early Career Cancer Researcher of the Year Award has been shared by two recipients this year," Mr Reid said.

"In the past 24 months Dr Vinicius Cavalheri has published two papers which significantly advanced the understanding of the benefits of exercise in patients following lung cancer surgery, and in those receiving treatment for advanced lung cancer.

"Dr Rachael Zemek, who is at the beginning of her career having just completed her PhD, is undertaking important research to understand whether a tumour will or will not respond to immunotherapy.

"It is so encouraging to see passionate early-career cancer researchers striving to ensure the best possible outcomes for local cancer patients and making such an important contribution to the global effort to defeat cancer."

Mr Reid said that more than $2.5m was allocated to support cancer research in 2019-2020 to 99 researchers for 40 projects, but now, more than ever, it was imperative the WA community continued to support cancer research.

"COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on Cancer Council WA," he said.

"It is only through the generosity of the WA community that many local cancer researchers are on the cusp of breakthroughs that have the potential to dramatically improve the way we prevent, detect and treat cancer," he said.

"We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of the WA community, including our Early Career Cancer Researcher of the Year Award sponsors Blueprint Wealth and Friends of Cancer Council. This support has enabled us to make this substantial investment into world-class local research, and urge West Australians to continue to support us during these challenging times."

Background information:

  • Since Cancer Council WA's research funding program began in 1963, the not-for-profit has
  • contributed more than $53 million to 1154 local research projects.
  • Each year 12,000 West Australians are diagnosed with cancer, and approximately 4,000 die as a
  • result of their diagnosis.
  • Around 87,000 Western Australians are currently living with cancer in our community
  • Cancer Council WA is the largest non-government funder of competitive cancer research in WA.

About the recipient's research

Dr Vinicius Cavalheri
Dr Vincius Cavalher

Prize: $5,000
Institution: Curtin University

Five years post PhD, Dr Vinicius Cavalheri has, and is, amassing a good body of work in understanding the benefits of exercise for people with cancer.

In the past 24 months, Dr Cavalheri has published two papers which significantly advanced the understanding of the benefits of exercise in patients following lung cancer surgery, and in those receiving treatment for advanced lung cancer.

Lung cancer (and its treatment) has a huge impact on patients' quality of life and symptoms. Dr Cavalheri study in patients following lung cancer surgery demonstrates that exercise increased fitness and muscle strength, improved quality of life and decreased breathlessness. His study in people receiving treatment for advanced lung cancer demonstrates that exercise improves or avoids the decline in fitness levels and quality of life. These studies promote the importance of exercise as part of lung cancer care and are certain to influence clinical practice.

Dr Cavalheri work in exercise following lung cancer surgery received the 2019 European Respiratory Society Grant for best abstract in Physiotherapy.

This award is supported by Friends of Cancer Cancel WA.

Dr Rachael Zemek

Dr Rachael Zemek

Prize: $5,000
Institution: NCARD (Currently at Telethon Kids Institute)

Dr Rachael Zemek is at the beginning of her career. Having just completed her PhD. Dr Zemek's research is at the basic science end of the research spectrum and adds importantly to the developing field of cancer immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy has shown remarkable success, but only in some cancers. It is not well known what determines whether a tumour will or will not respond to immunotherapy. Rachael compared responding and non-responding cancers in both laboratory models and patients. She found that responding tumours had high numbers of so-called natural killer cells. When cancers had no natural killer cells, they were  unable to respond.

Moreover, she showed that these cells could be attracted into tumours, by a very short treatment course of several drugs. This resulted in sensitization of the cancers to immunotherapy; they were now able to respond, resulting in a very high cure rate in laboratory models.

Rachael generated all the data for this paper, which was part of her PhD research (ranked top 5%, Dean's Honourable Mention), she performed computational analyses and wrote and edited the manuscript.

She is the first-author, which is a collaboration of 21 scientists, 20 of whom are from WA, from 11 different research groups across eight different institutes.

This award is supported by Blueprint Wealth

To view 2020 successful cancer researchers and projects


Found in:  News - 2020 | View all news