2021 Cancer Council WA Collaborative Cancer Grant Scheme

In 2021 this scheme is supported by Cancer Council WA, Government of Western Australia, Cancer Research Trust, Charlies Foundation for Research, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, The University of Western Australia and Telethon Kids Institute.


collaborative cancer grant scheme logos


See the full list of recipients below.

Project title: Exploiting the healing process to prevent cancer coming back after surgery
Lead researcher: Dr Rachael Zemek
Institution: The University of Western Australia

Dr Rachael Zemek, The University of Western Australia
Dr Melvin Chin, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital
Dr Elena Denisenko, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research

Project description:

Soft tissue sarcomas are cancers derived from muscle, fat or connective tissues, characterised by local aggressive growth. Despite surgery and aggressive chemotherapy, this cancer frequently grows back at the site of removal, decreasing survival.

Our ultimate research goal is to prevent sarcoma relapse after surgery. We aim to do this by using the wound healing process against the cancer; surgery causes an increased immune response and can expose vulnerabilities in cancer cells. We will use this to our advantage to prevent cancer growing back, to improve outcomes for patients.

We will investigate which genes are switched on in sarcoma following surgery and use computational methods to identify drug targets and currently available drugs to re-purpose. We will then test these drugs in mouse models.

In the future, we aim to develop local therapies for the clinic, which can be applied after surgery to prevent  relapse.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,727 from Cancer Council WA ($64,600 in total)
Supported by: Friends of Cancer Council WA , Frank and Sheila Granger & Cynthia Noonan


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Project title: How does the immune system control the growth and spread of cancer?
Lead researcher: Dr Alison McDonnell
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Team: Dr Alison McDonnell, The University of Western Australia
Dr Peter Lau, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital
Dr Melanie McCoy, St John of God Health Care
Dr Jesse Armitage, Telethon Kids Institute
Project description:

There is an urgent need to improve outcomes for patients with advanced solid cancers, including melanoma.

The immune system can fight cancer by eliminating malignant cells or by preventing the growth and spread of cells that escape eradication. We want to understand how the immune system controls tumour growth so we can develop new immunotherapies to eliminate cancer.

We have developed a world first animal model that allows us to examine how the immune system can keep cancer cells in a dormant state. Using this model, we found that specialised immune cells called tissue resident memory T cells, controlled tumour development. Using cutting edge technology, we will investigate how these T cells communicate with other immune cells, and cancer cells, in the skin to prevent melanoma
growth. This will allow us to identify new ways of manipulating immune cells, such as boosting their numbers or their cancer killing activity for more effective treatment of cancer.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,854 from Cancer Council WA ($64,997 in total)
Supported by:  Jill Tilly


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Project title: Finding treatments to prevent the spread of ocular melanoma
Lead researcher: Dr Weitao Lin
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Team: Dr Weitao Lin, Edith Cowan University
Dr Elena Denisenko, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Dr Nima Mesbah Ardakani, Pathwest Laboratory Medicine WA
Dr Rodrigo Carlessi, Curtin University
Project description:

Uveal melanoma (UM) is a tumour emerging from the middle coat of the eye (the uveal tract). UM is the most common type of ocular melanoma. In around 50 per cent of patients with UM, the tumour spreads from the eye to distant organs; this process is defined as metastasis. UM commonly metastasises to the liver, causing death within 2 years in >90% of patients. There isn't any effective treatment available for UM patients with metastatic tumours. Therefore, there is an urgent need to find effective treatments to prevent or treat metastatic UM.

This project aims to analyse both UM tumours from the eye and the liver. We will use cutting-edge technology to analyse thousands of the cells that form a tumour, one at a time. The results of this project will aid our understanding of how UM tumour cells behave within the metastases, and how UM cells interact with liver cells to enable the tumour growth. This study is expected to find new ways to treat the disease and prevent the development of metastasis.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,765 from Cancer Council WA ($64,718 in total)
Supported by: Peter and Iris Cook Grant for Metastases Research


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Project title: Testing novel therapies to treat high-risk infant acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
Lead researcher: Dr Sung Kai Chiu
Institution: Curtin University
Team: Dr Sung Kai Chiu, Telethon Kids Institute
Dr Hendra Gunosewoyo, Curtin University
Dr Rishi Kotecha, Perth Children's Hospital Oncology
Dr Laurence Cheung, Telethon Kids Institute
Project description:

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) is the most common form of childhood leukaemia, with over 200 cases diagnosed each year in Australia.

Treatment for ALL using chemotherapy has improved significantly in past 50 years and now over 9 out of 10 children with ALL are alive at 5 years from diagnosis, with most cured of their leukaemia. Unfortunately, infants with ALL (iALL) have much poorer survival rates due to early leukaemia relapse.

At Telethon Kids Institute we have identified a class of drugs that is active in iALL that have never been used for treating iALL. Concurrently our local collaborator has produced 10 new drugs in this very same class that has never been tested in cancer. We aim to test these agents together in more detail to determine their effectiveness in treating iALL. We also aim to translate the use of these novel agents into clinical trials and improve the survival rates in iALL.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,850 from Cancer Council WA ($64,983 in total)
Supported Jan Cooper, Brent, Jake and Ross Luckman


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