2022 Postdoctoral Research Fellowships


Project title: Predicting liver cancer before its appearance to improve detection of individuals at high risk
Recipient: Dr Rodrigo Carlessi
Description: Liver cancer causes about 10% of all cancer-related deaths globally; and in Australia, it is the fastest increasing cause of cancer death. A screening program for early detection of liver cancer does not exist in Australia. Due to lack of so-called 'biomarkers' that can be used to identify people at high-risk, patients are generally diagnosed with the disease at advanced stages, where treatment options are extremely limited.

After developing a new analytical platform that involves acquisition of large amounts of biological information from thousands of liver cells with unprecedented level of detail, the aim is to identify molecular signatures that can predict liver cancer before it develops.
It is important to predict cancer as early as possible as liver health can be restored before the damage becomes permanent and catastrophic. Early detection will improve survival and quality of life, as seen with other cancer types for which screening programs are in place.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $75,000 in 2022 ($225,000 total for 2021 - 2023)
Fully supported by: Friends of Cancer Council WA


Project title: Developing new therapies for cancer and identifying biological markers that predict successful cancer therapy
Recipient: Dr Alison McDonnell
Description: There is an urgent need to improve outcomes for patients with advanced solid cancers, including mesothelioma and melanoma.
Immunotherpay has revolutionised the treatment of cancer by unleashing the immune system to attack tumours. However, not all patients benefit from treatment and there are side effects. This research aims to identify which patients will benefit most from these treatments, and develop new drugs for those patients who do not respond to current therapies.

T cells are specialised cells of the immune system that recognise and kill cancer cells. The team will examine how T cells become activated to kill cancer cells, which activation mechanisms correlate with improved survival, and explore new ways to 'arm' T cells for improved cancer killing ability. This will allow to better predict which patients will benefit most from treatment and identify new ways of boosting the cancer killing ability of T cells for more effectve treatment of mesothelioma, melanoma and solid cancers.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $75,000 in 2022 (total $212,564 for 2020 - 2022)
Supported by: Friends of Cancer Council WA and the Estate of Rosemary Grant Zaks


Project title: Using a gel to release drugs locally after surgery and prevent cancer returning
Recipient: Dr Ben Wylie
Description: Treatment for sarcoma (cancers of the bone or soft tissues) involves surgery followed by chemo- or radiotherapy. However, many cancers do not respond, and patients suffer from local recurrence. One promising alternative is immunotherapy, drugs which activate the body's immune system to attack cancer. However, not all patients benefit from immunotherapy and there can be side effects.

My research aims to improve treatment options for patients undergoing surgical removal of their sarcoma. We have developed a gel-based immunotherapy that can be placed at the site during cancer surgery, to activate the immune system locally and destroy cancer cells. I will test several immune-activating drugs, delivered locally within the gel, in experimental cancer models. I will determine their anti-cancer properties and investigate how they produce their effect. This project will benefit a broad range of patients undergoing surgical removal of their cancer by reducing relapse post-surgery.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $75,000 in 2022 ($225,000 total for 2022 - 2024)
Supported by: