2021 Cancer Council WA Student Vacation Research Scholarships

Cancer Council WA Student Vacation Research Scholarships offer talented university students a taste of what cancer research can offer. They offer students a small stipend to conduct a specific research project over a period of four to 10 weeks.

Full list of 2021 recipients:

Project title: Genomic and transciptomic mechanisms of invasion and metastatic spread in leiomyosarcoma
Recipient: Ms Akanksha Das
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Leiomyosarcoma is a malignant cancer that affects smooth muscle tissue. It represents 24 per cent of all soft tissue sarcomas and has a mortality rate of 14 per cent, making this one of the most aggressive sarcomas. Although surgery is a well-established treatment strategy, novel targeted therapies have not yet been established in patients with metastasis.

The purpose of this project is to identify specific molecular mechanisms that dictate the invasion and spread of leiomyosarcoma using established programs. The project team will detect and analyse rare, clinically significant gene variants and their function through the Cancer Genome Atlas, a database containing leiomyosarcoma data analyses developed by the National Institute of Health.

Using paired tumour/normal tissue comparisons from local patients and correlation with disease progression will help to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of this aggressive tumour. This will assist in the detection of leiomyosarcoma and development of precision treatments.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3000
Supported by: Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation

 

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Project title: Exploring patient views about the importance of patient reported outcome measures (PROMs) in management of lung cancer patients
Recipient: Miss Emma Gardiner
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Lung cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Australia with the highest rate of cancer mortality. Research into what is important to patients in cancer care is being conducted by the Continuous Improvement in Care - Cancer Project, when patients are asked to complete patient-reported outcomes (PROs) questionnaires collecting information about their symptoms. This study asks patients if they think the surveys they completed capture their main symptoms and health concerns well.

The project will also ask how participants prefer to complete the survey - via phone, mail, email or whilst waiting for an appointment. Participants will take part in a recorded interview and feedback will be analysed to find out what is important to them.

This research will identify patient views of PROs and how they could be used effectively in routine clinical practice.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3000
Supported by: Friends of Cancer Council WA

 

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Project title: Histological screening of asbestos related disease in a mouse model of mesothelioma
Recipient: Miss Pristina Goh
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Mesothelioma is an aggressive asbestos induced cancer. Western Australia has the highest global per capita incidence of mesothelioma. Most people don't develop disease even after high asbestos exposure. The research team believe a person's genetic makeup affects their chances of developing the disease following asbestos exposure. As mesothelioma is a rare cancer, standard genetic tests used to identify genes that affect disease development are not useful. The team will utilise the unique MexTAg Collaborative Cross mouse model to identify genes associated with mesothelioma development.

Mice organs will be observed under a microscope to confirm the presence of mesothelioma after asbestos exposure. Disease severity will be scored using an assessment criterion and correlated with disease traits.

The results will improve the understanding of the biology of asbestos induced cancer and more importantly this work is likely to help identify new targets for the next generation of mesothelioma treatments.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3000
Supported by: Swan Athletic Senior Citizens

 

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Project title: A new high-content imaging tool for childhood brain cancer drug discovery
Recipient: Mrs Maren Jinks
Institution: Murdoch University
Project description:

Brain cancers kill more children than any other disease. Medulloblastoma (MB) is the most common childhood brain cancer. Treatment options for MB are harsh, damage healthy tissues, and fail to successfully treat a large proportion of children.

A new class of drugs has been discovered that are very effective against MB. These work by targeting the "cell cycle", a central process that controls cancer cell replication.

This project aims to understand at what point in the cell cycle these new drugs kill the MB cells to explore any potential side effects if used in children. This will be undetaken by modifying MB cells to express fluorescent proteins that change colour throughout the cell cycle. After applying the drugs to the cells, time-lapse imaging will be used to visualise the effects.

This work aims to provide new laboratory tools to examine the effectiveness of new drugs for MB. The new tools will be applied to test new treatments, with the desired outcome being improved prognosis for this cancer.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3000
Supported by: James Crofts Hope Foundation

 

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Project title: Characterisation of immune infiltrates after local immunotherapy for soft tissue sarcoma
Recipient: Mr Aaron Meyers
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Sarcomas are a rare group of cancers that arise in connective tisues such as muscle, fat and bone. They predominantly occur in children and young adults - constituting 15 per cent of all pediatric cancers. Although the primary treatment is surgery, the cancer often cannot be removed in its entirety. Chemotherapy is given for this reason, but it can cause severe side effects and is often ineffective: one third of patients still die from the disease. Since treatments have remained essentially the same over the last three decades, the development of more effective therapies is critical.

This project is aimed at the development of a gel-based immunotherapy that can be applied locally during surgery to prevent recurrence. In order for this treatment to benefit patients, there must be an advanced understanding of the drug's effect.

Using laboratory models of sarcoma, the project team aims to identify which cells take up the drug and characterise its interaction with the immune system. The insights gained from this research will facilitate the transition of this therapy into clinical development.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3000
Supported by:  Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation

 

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Project title: Genomic HLA as a predictive biomarker for survival among advanced melanoma patients treated with single-agent immunotherapy
Recipient: Mr Oliver Oey
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

This research will focus on melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in Australia, with the 2019 Australia Institute of Health and Welfare report ranking melanoma as the third most common cancer in Australian men and women, and the most common cancer affecting the middle-age population (15 - 39 year old).

The aim of the research is to identify whether certain markers in the blood can be used to predict response to immunotherapy in melanoma patients. For this study, 100 advanced melanoma patients, who were due to start immunotherapy, were recruited. Bloods of these participants will be analysed for the presence of genes involved in the immune response. By correlating these results to clinical data, the team will establish if this test can be used to predict which patients are more likely to benefit from immunotherapy.

Therefore, this research will assist clinicians in deciding the most optimal therapy for advanced melanoma patients, thereby improving survival outcomes.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3000
Supported by: Australia Post

 

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Project title: Investigating the role of ion channels in the plasticity of diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas
Recipient: Miss Stephanie Tan
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) accounts for 10 per cent of all childhood central nervous system cancers. DIPGs are highly aggressive and difficult to treat because they are located in the brainstem and as a result DIPG is almost always fatal.

While targeted therapies have shown promise in other cancers, brain cancers don't respond. This could be due to the opening of ion channels allowing certain particles to enter or leave cancer cells changing cellular pathways resulting in the ability of cancer cells to adapt, grow and spread. Blocking ion channels could stop this adaption and improve responses to targeted therapies.

This aim of this project is to confirm the presence of ion channels in DIPG cells and then after blocking them to measure the cells' growth and survival, establishing whether ion channel blockers could be an effective treatment for DIPG.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3000
Supported by:  James Crofts Hope Foundation

 

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