2022 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.

 

Project title: Understanding acute lymphoblastic leukaemia development in Down Syndrome children to improve their outcomes
Lead researcher: Miss Kathryn Bentley
Institution: Murdoch University
Project description:

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a type of cancer where the bone marrow produces too many immature lymphocytes; it is the most common type of cancer in children. Children with Down Syndrome (DS) have a greater likelihood of developing ALL, tending to have a more severe disease.
In addition to trisomy 21 (i.e., three copies of chromosome 21), DS-ALL cells commonly carry changes that are linked to a poor outcome. Such changes include mutations in CEBPD and KRAS that enhance cell replication. Alone, these changes lead to cancer development, but it is not well understood if they have a similar effect in combination with trisomy 21.
Therefore, the project will study their cooperation with trisomy 21. This will be conducted by comparing mouse cells, with and without trisomy 21, on their ability to form visible group of cells (colonies).
The results will allow us to develop a better understanding on this relationship. Thereby, establishing a better predictive model of disease.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Supported: In the name of Leah Jane Cohen

 

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Project title: Personalised medicine for sarcoma patients: developing a rapid method for patient-specific drug testing
Lead researcher: Miss Isobel Jones
Institution: Murdoch University
Project description:

Bone and soft tissue sarcomas are a rare (1% of all cancers) and large group (over 100 sub-types) of tumours that are disproportionally more common in children, adolescents, and young adults. Their 5-year survival rate of ~70% hasn't improved significantly over the past decades compared to the improvements observed for the more common types of cancers. This is in part due to their rarity making it very difficult to conduct large clinical trials of novel and targeted drug treatments for each sarcoma subtype.
We have developed a genetic screening program for sarcoma patients with advanced malignant disease that has identified genes that would indicate specific treatment options for some patients if their cancer was of a more common type. By using the recent advances in gene editing technologies, we aim to develop a rapid lab-based screening method of the effectiveness of these novel, targeted therapies identified in the genetic screening program to provide evidence of potential drug efficacy for these sarcoma patients.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of the Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation


 

 

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Project title: A novel method for preventing recurrence of retroperitoneal sarcoma
Lead researcher: Mrs Hyerin Park
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Retroperitoneal sarcomas are a rare type of cancer which are often picked up late. The mainstay of curative treatment is surgery, but recurrence rates after surgery are high, with 50% of patients developing a recurrence within 5 years. These recurrences may be due to microscopic areas of cancer that are not removed because they are too small to detect. A novel method for treating these microscopic areas of cancer with minimal impact on surrounding organs and structures is argon plasma coagulation (APC). APC has previously been used for treating other cancers, namely oesophageal cancer, but is yet to be used for retroperitoneal sarcomas. The efficacy of APC for preventing recurrence of retroperitoneal sarcomas will be examined by comparing recurrence rates amongst patients treated with surgery plus APC versus those treated with surgery alone. This will help inform best practice for curative treatment of patients with retroperitoneal sarcomas.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of the Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation


 

 

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Project title: Assessing the cancerous nature of mouse liver progenitor cells (LPCs) as they are grown in culture
Lead researcher: Mr Alexander Rossi
Institution: University of Notre Dame
Project description:

Liver progenitor cells (LPCs) regenerate the liver during chronic damage but are highly prone to mutations. Liver cancer is rare but, the age-standardised incidence rate increased 378% whilst the mortality rate increased threefold from 1982 to 2015.
This project will quantify how likely LPCs are to become cancerous as they go through certain stages of cell culture. The intent is to understand whether LPCs become more likely to form tumours over time or abruptly become cancerous after a specific stage.
My role is to passage adult mouse LPCs (a colony-forming technique that assesses tumorigenicity). It is performed by suspending the cells in agar and counting the proportion that develop into large colonies (likely tumours).
Linking LPCs to cancer formation could contribute to developing new ways of detecting cancer in early stages without the need for biopsies which can, in some instances, be risky and often inaccurate.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Supported:

 

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Project title: Investigating mechanisms for iron uptake in cancerous vs non-cancerous liver cells
Lead researcher: Miss Andrea Vidler
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Cancer cells divide rapidly and therefore require a lot of iron (as it is required to make the building blocks of DNA). Cancer cells thus have a more efficient way of taking up iron than non-cancerous cells. One of the ways cells take up iron is through a receptor known as the transferrin receptor. Thus the activity of this receptor is greater in cancerous cells as shown in many cancer cell types, however it hasn't been shown in liver cancer cells.
This project aims to confirm that this increased transferrin receptor activity, i.e. more efficient iron uptake mechanism, applies to liver cancer cells. To do this, fluorescent transferrin will be added to both cancerous and non-cancerous cells. It will bind to its receptor and the level of fluorescence will thus indicate the level of iron uptake by the cell. It is expected this will confirm that increased iron uptake through the transferrin receptor occurs in liver cancer cells, opening up opportunities for anticancer drugs to be developed to target this receptor.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of Deeny O'Shaughnessy


 

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Project title: Aiding Cancer Prevention: Building the Evidence Base to Restrict Unhealthy Food Advertising Near Schools
Lead researcher: Miss Gabriella Wells
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description:

With obesity linked to 13 cancers and diet related to 30% of all cancers, having a healthy diet and body weight is one of the most cost-effective approaches to cancer prevention. This research project will help build the evidence base underpinning Cancer Council WA's policy campaign to ban unhealthy advertising on government-owned assets. It builds on and expands a Cancer Council WA funded project quantifying the amount of outdoor food advertising present near Perth schools in 2020/21 by using a validated tool to score the observed 1700 advertisements according to their appeal to teenagers. The findings will be written up as a scientific manuscript to be submitted to a high impact, peer-reviewed journal and can be used by the Cancer Council WA's Obesity Prevention Team in their advocacy work. Reducing children's exposure to unhealthy food advertisements can help improve dietary intake and reduce obesity, which in turn can help reduce the incidence and prevalence of diet- and obesity-related cancers.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Fully supported: In the name of the Noonan Family