2022 Paul Katris Honours Scholarships

We offer these one year scholarships to support the work of promising young honours students to encourage them to consider a career in cancer research.

 

Project title: Designing a new and more effective therapy for aggressive paediatric brain cancer
Lead researcher: Ms Mia Algar
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

The type of cancer we will be researching is called Medulloblastoma which most often affects children. It is a primary brain tumour meaning it starts in the brain cells before spreading to the bone marrow, lungs or other parts of the body. Medulloblastoma can be caused by certain inherited disorders, however why is develops in people without these disorders is unknown. The tumours start in the cerebellum at the back of the brain which controls balance and coordination, therefore symptoms include dysfunction in those actions.

The aims will be to assess a promising new drug called anti-CD47 which blocks a protein on the surface of the cancer cells called CD47. CD47 sends a "don't eat me" signal to the immune cells that clear away harmful cells, allowing the cancer cells to hide from the immune cells. Blocking this signal with anti-CD47 will allow the immune cells to detect and destroy the cancer cells.

The research will be done by implanting mice with cancer cells and allowing the cancer cells to grow for a period of a few days. Then, the anti-CD47 will be administered plus radiotherapy and after this treatment the tumours will be assessed. The cancer cells will be taken out and the tumour size, immune cell distribution and the amount of dead and alive cells will be analysed.
The benefits of the research will be to hopefully change clinical practices to include this new therapy, which will allow for children to experience less side effects and ongoing effects caused by treatment with radiotherapy alone. Combining anti-CD47 with radiotherapy will hopefully improve survival times and reduce tumour growth in our models. "

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

Project title: Understanding leukaemia development in children with down syndrome
Lead researcher: Ms Kathryn Bentley
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of cancer seen in children. ALL is characterized by the presence of too many immature lymphocytes in the bone marrow which affect normal blood and immune functions. Children with Down syndrome (DS, trisomy 21) have a greater likelihood of developing ALL (named DS-ALL), and have worse outcomes compared to other children (2-3 fold increase in treatment toxicity and relapse). Thus, new therapies are needed to improve quality of care for these DS children.

In this Honours` project, I will dissect the mechanisms that drive DS-ALL by adding several key regulators of lymphocyte development (CEBPD, NOTCH1) into DS cells to recreate leukaemia in test tubes. This will allow me to identify the key features of cancer growth and unravel new weaknesses.
Altogether, this study will provide new tools that will be used to prevent leukaemia and improve survival in children with or without DS."

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Noonan Family

 

Project title: An investigation of a portable low-energy X-ray machine for cancer treatment
Lead researcher: Ms Marsha Chin
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Cancer treatment using radiation has two main goals:
1) To successfully kill all cancer cells
2) To minimise the radiation dose to surrounding, healthy tissues.

One type of machine that can help achieve these two goals is called the Intrabeam. It is mainly used for breast cancer, after the patient has been cut open in surgery and had the bulk of their tumour removed. The Intrabeam probe is inserted into the open wound and delivers X-rays which kill any remaining cancer cells invisible to the eyes. The X-rays have low-energy, which means only the immediate tumour bed will receive the radiation. Underlying healthy tissue will be spared.

My project will make measurements on the Intrabeam to find out exactly what kind of radiation dose it delivers, so that we can treat patients more accurately and safely. I will also model the Intrabeam on a computer software which will give me information about the radiation dose as well. This will give physicists and doctors more confidence and assurance in using the Intrabeam, which can help many patients.
I hope also to design and 3D-print customised attachments for the X-ray probe, to better cater to each patient's needs.

A great bonus of the Intrabeam is that these patients don't have to get external-beam radiotherapy (EBRT) after surgery. EBRT involves the radiation entering the patient's body from the outside, giving a radiation dose to anything between the patient's skin and the tumour. "

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Estate of Victor Lypka

Project title: The role of white blood cells after sarcoma surgery
Lead researcher: Ms Matilda Gorce
Institution: Curtin University
Project description:

Sarcomas are a group of soft tissue cancers derived from muscle, fat, or connective tissue. Despite traditional treatment methods like surgery and chemotherapy, this type of cancer frequently grows back and more aggressively at the site of removal which is often leads to poor outcomes for patients.

The aim of this research is to identify the role of a specific immune cell type, neutrophils at the chamosite post-surgery and whether these have a positive or negative effect on the anti-tumour immune response.

Using laboratory models of soft tissue sarcoma, we will analyse neutrophils that come into the cancer after surgery. Analysis of neutrophils will be done via laboratory tests which will tell us how these cells are behaving when they meet cancer. With this information, we can find new ways to enhance their cancer killing capacity.

Our goal is to develop a treatment that can be used at the post-surgical site to remove sarcoma and rid any cancer cells that may remain. This would reduce relapse rate and ultimately reduce the mortality rate of sarcoma patients with the possibility of eliminating the use of chemotherapy altogether."

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest

Project title: Improving testing and survival for children with leukaemia
Lead researcher: Ms Isabelle Gray
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer. It affects cells responsible for blood cell production within the bone marrow. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common cancer in children. In some patients, a certain change within the DNA of the cancer cells called ‘high hyperdiploidy' - which refers to the gaining of copies of multiple chromosomes, resulting in a total of more than 46 - can occur. Having more than the normal 2 copies of chromosome 21 is the most common genetic change within childhood leukaemias.

This is important to detect as it can help determine the likely outcome after treatment.
Despite vast improvements in treatment, 20% of children with ALL are never cured. Some who are treated and said to be in remission can still have as many as 1 billion cancer cells still within their body. The current detection methods for these persistent leukaemia cells are not very accurate.

The aim of this research is to determine whether a new type of test, invented in WA, can detect extra copies of chromosome 21. It will involve using different fluorescent dyes to identify the cells chromosome 21. These samples will then be run through the instrument (a flow cytometer), where they will be shone with lasers to see if the cells are marked with the fluorescent tags, as well as determining how many 21 chromosomes each cell has. We believe that this will increase the chance of detecting the leukaemia cells that have escaped treatment. This project will help to improve current leukaemia testing and detection methods, benefiting both patients and doctors and leading to better outcomes.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA

Project title: Discovering new therapeutic targets in pediatric brain cancer
Lead researcher: Ms Lauren Ursich
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description:

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is the most lethal form of brain cancer in children. DIPG is incurable, and most children survive less than one year. No new successful treatments have been developed in 30 years and survival rates have not improved, primarily because of a lack of effective drug treatments. A key reason for this is cell plasticity, a trait of brain cells that allow them to change their function in response to their environment. Tumour cells use plasticity to evade anti-cancer drugs.

This research aims to investigate tumour cell plasticity by focusing on a group of genes called anoctamins, which are believed to control cancer cell behaviour. To do this, we will trial a new treatment that blocks anoctamins, which will improve the effectiveness of current anti-cancer treatments that have otherwise failed.

The benefit will be to establish an effective treatment option using a combination approach to increase survival outcomes for brain cancer patients drastically.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $7,500
Fully supported: In the name of the Mavis Sands Bequest