2021 Cancer Council WA Suzanne Cavanagh Early Career Investigator Grants

Early Career Investigator Grants are designed to help talented early career cancer researchers develop the skills and necessary track record to advance their career. These one year awards give many researchers their first step in their career as an independent cancer researcher.

See below for the 2021 grant receipients.

Project title: Identification of melanoma-specific signatures that can predict response to immunotherapies
Lead researcher:  Dr Leslie Calapre
Institution:  Edith Cowan University
Research description:

Immunotherapies have a positive impact on metastatic melanoma management, but only 20 per cent of patients will have a durable response to these treatments. As immunotherapy can cause significant and life-threatening side-effects, melanoma-specific markers that can be used to predict patient response to immunotherapies is a critical unmet need in the clinic.

This study aims to better understand the biology of each patient's melanoma and identify if the presence of certain DNA modifiers (epigenetic markers) in the blood of patients can be used to predict response to treatment. These signatures can then be developed into a blood test which in turn will allow easy identification of tumours that will respond to immunotherapies or those who may require alternative therapy to ensure an optimal outcome. The outcomes of this study will help clinicians make informed treatment decisions and improve patient outcomes. 

Funding from Cancer Council WA:  $34,960
Supported by: Peter O'Shaughnessy for Deeny O'Shaughnessy


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Project title: Creating cancer cell maps, using advanced technology, to understand why ovarian cancer keeps growing after treatment
Lead researcher:  Dr Elena Denisenko
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Research description:

Over 1500 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Australia in 2019. Less than half of these women will survive longer than five years after their diagnosis. This is because ovarian cancer is mostly found at late stages (due to lack of specific symptoms), and typically becomes resistant to the treatment, even after an initially good response.

Treatment often fails because an ovarian tumour is made up of many different types of cancer cells. Some types of cancer cells may be destroyed by the treatment, while other types turn out to be resistant and allow the tumour to grow further. The research team proposes to investigate the different types of ovarian cancer cells to understand how they are related and why some of them are not killed by the treatment.

A novel technology called spatial transcriptomics will be used, which will allow for the creation of maps of cells in an area of the tumour. Several different areas in each tumour will be mapped and the cancer cells examined. This will enable the comparison of cells and cell interactions in different areas of the tumour.

The findings of this study may be used in the future to make tumours more sensitive to treatment and improve outcomes of women with ovarian cancer. The proposed strategy, once established, can also be applied to many other types of cancer.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $35,000
Supported by: P New


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