CCWA Student Vacation Research Scholarships 

Full list of grants and recipients 2018

Project A new strategy to prevent melanoma metastases
Recipient  Mr Joseph Backhouse
Institution Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Research description  

The most life-threatening aspect of cancer is spreading of the tumour to other body locations in a process called metastasis. Current treatments often fail due to cancer cells avoiding detection and spreading. Important drivers of metastasis are the abnormal, “leaky” blood vessels within the tumour that also prevent delivery of cancer therapeutics.

This project will investigate the ability of a new drug called LIGHT-VTP to fix the “leaky” blood vessels, thereby limiting metastasis. Importantly, this drug has been previously shown to improve immunotherapy delivery to tumours. This investigation will involve analysing tumours and their blood vessels with tools like immunohistochemistry and quantitative PCR. Demonstrating the efficacy of this drug will open up the possibility to develop a new adjuvant treatment for melanoma patients that will reduce mortality and improve current clinical treatments.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA

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Project How does chemotherapy work? A focus on the immune system.
Recipient  Ms Rasa Islam
Institution The University of Western Australia
Research description  

Chemotherapy is a widely used treatment for cancer, however it does not work in every patient or in every type of cancer. Even patients with the same type of cancer can respond differently to treatment: some people are completely cured while others do not experience any effect. Why this is the case is not fully understood. Determining what is needed for a patient to successfully be treated by chemotherapy could lead to the discovery of markers indicating whether a patient will benefit from chemotherapy or increase their chances of responding to it.

This project will investigate whether the presence or absence of immune cells in the tumour determine an effective chemotherapy response. The project will investigate whether cancer cells are more sensitive to chemotherapy if there are immune cells around, using tumour samples from laboratory animals that do or do not have immune cells, and that have been treated with chemotherapy.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of Cynthia Noonan & Family

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Project Radiation oncology and health professionals' perceptions of the problems delivering radiotherapy to children and what can help
Recipient  Ms Jessica Rifici
Institution Curtin University
Research description  

More children are being diagnosed with cancer and living with the effects of treatment. Radiotherapy (RT) is used but a concern is unintended radiation to children’s organs.

Distress may result in the child moving or being unwilling to cooperate so there is often a need for sedation to keep patients immobile, delivered five days a week for six-seven weeks. This adds risks for children and organisational challenges.

This qualitative study aims to explore the views of Radiation Oncology and health professionals who work with paediatric cancer patients on the provision of paediatric RT including barriers and solutions to paediatric RT care and appropriate interventions and supports to reduce distress.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported

In the name of the Nannup Craft & Quilting Group


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Project Investigating if bone cancer cells, that are resistant to anti-cancer drugs are also capable of spreading more rapidly.
Recipient  Ms Fathima Mufaidha Mohamed Raju
Institution Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Research description  

Death from cancer occurs mainly when it spreads to different parts of the body. Bone cancer (sarcoma), is more common in adolescents and young adults, with 1200 new cases per year in Australia. Patients with bone cancers that are found to be spreading have a bad diagnosis, with only ~20% surviving more than 5 years. Some evidence suggests that cancer cells that are resistant to anti-cancer drugs are also able to spread faster. The team has made drug-resistant bone cancer cells in the laboratory from drug-sensitive parental cells, and will test their ability to proliferate, migrate and invade, compared to when these same cells are sensitive to drugs. The drug-sensitive and resistant cells will be tested for their ability to proliferate, migrate and invade using an instrument called the IncuCyte ZOOM. If the drug-resistant cells are more proliferative/migratory/invasive, the team will then look at what molecules have been altered in these cells that cause this, which might identify new molecules/drugs that can stop the drug-resistant cells from spreading.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported

In the name of the Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation


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Project How does cancer effect the financial situation of Australian cancer patients, and how can we measure this?
Recipient  Ms Kimberley Robinson
Institution Sir charles Gairdner Hospital
Research description  

Cancer and its treatment can have negative health effects. This can limit both patients and their carers from working. High costs such as that of medication and travel can also occur. This means that cancer patients and their families can be under financial stress, known as financial toxicity. Financial toxicity can lead to patients avoiding treatment to lower costs, leading to poorer health overall.

Measures of financial toxicity vary, making it difficult to compare research. This means that seeing who suffers from financial toxicity, and how much, is difficult. Without this information, prevention and management is limited. Recently, the Comprehensive Score for Financial Toxicity (COST) survey has proven to be a good measure of financial toxicity in American cancer patients. It has not been tested in Australian cancer patients within our different healthcare system.

The aim of this research project is to see if this is a valid and reliable tool to measure financial toxicity in Australian cancer patients being treated in the public health system. Patients will complete this survey, and its validity will be assessed. If this survey can measure financial toxicity in Australian cancer patients, it allows better research to be done in this area. As a result, financial toxicity can be limited and the health of cancer patients can be improved.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of Cynthia Noonan & Family

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Project Targeting chemotherapy resistance with anti-cancer drugs derived from spider venom
Recipient  Mr John Tanner
Institution Curtin University 
Research description  

Chemotherapy resistance is one of the main reasons for the failure of cancer treatment and it affects most types of cancer including skin, lung, bowel, prostate and breast. These cancers make up 50% of new cancer cases and 45% of cancer deaths in WA (WA Cancer statistics 2014).

There is a need to find new types of anti-cancer drugs that can complement existing drugs and help us reduce the impact of chemotherapy resistance. An interesting source of chemical compounds to find such new drugs is the venom of spiders, which can kill cancer cells by perforating the cell membrane. This is very different to how other chemotherapy drugs work.

This project uses computer simulations to study the cell membrane interactions of three spider venom compounds that have anti-cancer activities against melanoma, breast and prostate cancer cells. The results will help us understand how the binding to cell membrane relates to the compounds anti-cancer activity.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA

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Project Testing a method for genetic characterisation of the cells that spread melanoma within the body
Recipient  Mr Andre Vieira
Institution Edith Cowan University
Research description  

Over 1600 Australians die annually due to melanoma that has spread throughout the body and progressed into a treatment resistant cancer. Melanoma spreads by sending tumour cells through the bloodstream (Circulating Tumour Cells or CTCs), seeding tumours throughout the body. Thus, the study of these cells is critical to understand biology and diversity of melanomas. The ECU Melanoma Research Group has substantial expertise in the isolation and analysis of melanoma CTCs.

This study will further develop this expertise by testing the ability of a frontline technology, recently available in WA, to detect melanoma cells in a large background of normal blood cells through the analysis of their genetic makeup. This will determine the efficiency of this technology and enable future studies into the diversity of melanoma CTCs to understand their role in cancer spreading.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported

In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA


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Project Novel methodology for detecting tumour derived material in blood to aid melanoma diagnosis
Recipient  Mr Daniel Walker
Institution Edith Cowan University
Research description  

Melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer, and one of the most common cancers affecting the Australian population. The presence of melanoma can be detected through a blood test by extracting free floating DNA fragments (circulating tumour-DNA) from the patient's blood and looking at changes that are specific to the tumour.

The Edith Cowan University Melanoma Research Group is one of the pioneers in the study of circulating tumour-DNA in melanoma. Building on their expertise, this project aims to detect circulating tumour-DNA by identifying a specific pattern (or methylation site) common to melanoma, with the aim of developing a test to identify this pattern using novel laboratory techniques.

This will be the first steps towards developing a sensitive method for reliably detecting tumour specific methylation patterns in circulating DNA. This may allow detection of melanoma in its early stages, before it has spread throughout the body and it still easier to treat.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of Le Messurier Charitable Trust


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Project Exploring the carer’s experience of looking after a person diagnosed with primary brain cancer: an exploration of carers’ experiences during nurse-led phone interviews for the intervention ‘Care-Is’
Recipient  Ms Danika McCormick
Institution Curtin University
Research description  

A diagnosis of primary brain cancer is often terminal. As diagnosis is often made after a short symptomatic period, patients and their carers need to make immediate treatment decisions and adjust their lifestyles to deal with functional, emotional or cognitive decline, often with inability to work, drive or participate in productive activities. Most patients experience cognitive decline, propelling the carer into a new role of surrogate decision-maker, assisting with communication, handling medications and managing disabilities.

The aim of this project is to gain an understanding of carer’s experiences of looking after a person with brain cancer for up to 12 months post diagnosis. Nursing consultations that have been conducted with carers will be analysed thematically. This project will provide us with a better understanding of the experiences of carers who are looking after someone with brain cancer. This understanding will enable us to better support carers through this experience in the future.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of the James Crofts Hope Foundation


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Project A study to describe a new laboratory model for a lethal childhood brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma
Recipient  Mr Jason Stanley
Institution Telethon Kids Institute
Research description  

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is an incurable brain tumour that forms in the brainstem of children between the ages of 6 and 8. DIPG cannot be treated with surgery or chemotherapy.  Radiation is used, but it only extends the patient’s life by about 8 months. Effective treatments for DIPG are yet to be found. Moreover, it is difficult to test new therapies because there is a lack of suitable laboratory models that mimic DIPG. 

Researchers at Telethon Kids Institute have developed a new animal model of DIPG. In this project, the team aims to see if the new model resembles the same cancer that was observed in the patient. This will be done by looking for proteins that are indicative of DIPG and matching it with the original tumour. This will be conducted using techniques called “immunoblotting” and “immunohistochemistry”.

If successful, this project will improve the understanding of DIPG and allow testing of new treatments, which could lead to the development of a cure in the future.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of the James Crofts Hope Foundation


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Project Seeing if bone cancer cells that have had the gene AFAP1L1 delted have a reduced capacity to spread
Recipient  Ms Samantha Thilini Gunasekera
Institution Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Research description  

Death from cancer occurs mainly when it spreads to different parts of the body. Bone cancer (sarcoma), is more common in adolescents and young adults, with 1200 new cases/year in Australia. Patients with bone cancers that are found to be spreading have a bad diagnosis, with only ~20% surviving more than 5 years. The team has identified the gene AFAP1L1 as being strongly associated with bone cancer cell migration and invasion. Genomic engineering has been used to delete this gene from bone cancer cells. The bone cancer cells with the gene AFAP1L1 deleted will be tested for their ability to proliferate, migrate and invade in the laboratory using an instrument called the IncuCyte ZOOM. If the cells lacking AFAP1L1 are less proliferative/migratory/invasive, we will then check if this is true in pre-clinical models of bone cancer and also screen for drugs that can mimic the effect of AFAP1L1 gene deletion which might be used to stop the bone cancer cells from spreading.

Funding from CCWA $3,000
Fully supported In the name of the Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation


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