CCWA PhD Top Up Scholarships 

Full list of grants and recipients 2018

Project Early Detection of Cancer spread and treatment of ocular melanoma
Recipient  Mr Aaron Beasley
Institution Edith Cowan University
Research description  

Uveal melanoma (UM) is the most common cancer of the eye. Approximately, 50% of UM patients are at high risk of incurable disease spread and due to lack of effective treatments, 92% will die within 2 years. Research shows that UM spreads to other organs via the release of Circulating Tumour Cells (CTCs) into the blood stream. Previously, I developed a blood test, which allows me to capture and analyse CTCs to accurately identify high risk UM patients.

In collaboration with the Lions Eye Institute, I now aim to validate this blood test in a large cohort of patients and establish its utility in the clinic. I also aim to create UM mouse models and screen potential drugs that can be used to prevent the spread of disease.

This research will drive the clinical use of a safe blood test to identify high risk UM patients and identify drug candidates to impede disease spread, which will ensure rigorous patient surveillance and improved patient outcomes.

Funding from CCWA $12,000 for 2018 ($30,000 in total for 2018-2020)
Fully supported In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

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Project Improving tumour detection using multimodality imaging
Recipient  Ms Meenu Chopra
Institution Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Research description  

Cancer spread in our body is difficult to detect. Diagnostic imaging to detect cancers in patients often involves injection of non-specific dyes or probes that bind to both normal and cancerous tissues. In addition, injection of imaging probes at high dose can also cause systemic toxicity. This project addresses these limitations, by developing cancer targeted small molecules that specifically bind and accumulate in cancerous tissues and can be detected by non-invasive imaging instruments including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and near infrared imagery. Breast Cancer is a common cancer in Australia and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in Australian women, accounting for 15.6 per cent of all cancer deaths in women, in 2011. Liver cancer is third leading cause of cancer death after lung and stomach cancers. Liver cancer can occur as a primary or secondary cancer from different organ that spreads to the liver. Early diagnosis of liver cancer is difficult because signs and symptoms often do not appear until the cancer is already advanced. Once liver cancer has metastasised, they are usually fatal within 6 to 12 months of diagnosis. Recent statistics indicate that the incidence of primary liver cancer is increasing and the relative survival rate is below 20%.

It is important that both breast and liver cancers are detected early. Effective imaging-guided localisation of metastasised cancers can also potentially aid surgical procedures to remove the malignancies.

A/Prof. Juliana Hamzah’s laboratory has identified several tumour specific probes that bind breast and liver cancers. If injected through the blood circulation, they can find and specifically accumulate in tumours. These tumour-homing probes will be used to deliver nano-size molecules (i.e. nanoparticles) that can be track down non-invasively. If these nanoparticles are specifically targeted to tumours, they will enhance the detection of both create new cancer imaging reagents that will be useful for cancer diagnosis.

Funding from CCWA $12,000 in 2018 ($36,000 total, for 2016-2018)
Supported In the name of The Sparkly Umbrella

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Project Treating the most aggressive breast cancers using molecules from natural substances
Recipient  Ms Ciara Duffy
Institution The University of Western Australia
Research description  

Breast cancer remains a serious health threat for women, which occurs frequently with devastating outcomes. There are no drugs available which can specifically target the most difficult to treat breast cancers, such as triple-negative breast cancer. For people with this subtype, the only treatment options are chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, which can have lifelong side effects.

Natural substances have been studied for a long time, and shown to work in killing cancer cells. The major molecules in these cancer selective natural compounds will be investigated. This research will involve treating breast cancer cells with these anti-cancer molecules and understanding how the cells die. The molecules will also be delivered using very small targeted particles. In this project, the aim is to develop a new targeted drug derived from natural molecules, which will selectively kill the most difficult to treat breast cancer cells.

Funding from CCWA $6000 for 2018 ($12,000 in total 2017-2018)
Fully supported In the name of Momentum for Australia


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Project Designing new materials that deliver gene therapies to breast cancer
Recipient  Ms Jessica Kretzmann
Institution The University of Western Australia
Research description  

Breast cancer is the 2nd most common cause of cancer death in women and the 4th most common cause of cancer death in Australia. It is not a single disease: 10-17% of breast cancers are an aggressive type called Triple Negative Breast Cancers, which have no targeted therapies, a higher recurrence rate and shorter overall survival. Targeted therapies are available for more common types of breast cancers, however resistance to therapy occurs in a large number of patients. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop new targeted treatments to reduce disease burden and mortality.

Like most diseases, cancer is affected by our genetics. Women with abnormalities in particular regions of their genetic code are at increased risk of developing aggressive breast cancers, with few treatment options available. Genetic testing is available, and women carrying these abnormalities may undergo preventative measures such as complete removal of both breasts, but there are no non-invasive treatments for these women. Thus development of therapies that aim to correct these genetic abnormalities can have a huge, positive impact on the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Unfortunately, therapies that correct genetic abnormalities are not yet available, as there are no safe and efficient methods to deliver these therapies.

This project aims to design, produce, and test new, highly effective and safe materials that can deliver genetic therapies to cancer cells which will involve:  computer modelling, to assist in the design of suitable materials; chemical synthesis, to make the materials; and cell- and animal-based experiments, to test whether these new materials are effective in reducing the risk of cancer. By combining these approaches the research will develop crucial understanding in the targeted delivery of genetic therapies, and use novel delivery agents to transfer genetic therapies to cancer cells and edit faulty genes that lead to breast cancer.

 

Funding from CCWA $6000 for 2018 ($12,000 in total 2017-2018)
Supported In the name of Deeny O'Shaughnessy


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Project Expression and function of stem cell genes in aggressive human brain tumours
Recipient  Ms Tracy Seymour
Institution The University of Western Australia
Research description  

Glioblastoma is the most common type of primary brain tumour, with 1,000 new cases per year in Australia and a low average survival time of only 12 to 15 months. Glioblastoma is very aggressive and has the ability to transform into its more aggressive variant, gliosarcoma, for which very little is currently known. Current clinical treatments for both glioblastoma and gliosarcoma are the same, despite clinical indications suggesting that they are different diseases.

Previous research has shown that glioblastoma and gliosarcoma tumours contain a type of cell known as glioma stem cells. Stem cells are the precursors of all other cells in the body. Stem cells are special because they are regenerative (they can replicate themselves) and malleable (they can turn into different types of specialised cells). Glioma stem cells are very aggressive and help glioblastoma and gliosarcoma tumours to grow. Unfortunately, glioma stem cells are not destroyed by current clinical treatments and this enables the cancer to return once treatment has finished.

Certain genes, such as SOX2, OCT4 and NANOG, show abnormal functioning in glioma stem cells, when compared with how these genes function in other healthy stem cells. The abnormal functioning of these genes may cause the aggressive characteristics of glioma stem cells.

This research aims to explore how SOX2, OCT4 and NANOG function in glioblastoma and gliosarcoma, with focus on SOX2 and on shedding light into the properties of gliosarcoma for which so little is known. This will provide the basis for use of these genes as novel therapeutic targets. The research will also use a new technology that targets SOX2 to interfere and stop its function. Lastly, the research will explore the effects of current treatments on glioma stem cells in order to determine mechanisms that enable tumours to return after treatment.

 

Funding from CCWA $6,000 ($42,000 total 2015-2018)
Fully supported In the name of the Lions Cancer Institute Scholarship


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