Suzanne Cavanagh Early Career Investigator Grants

In 2006, we launched the Early Career Investigator (ECI) grants to help talented researchers develop the neccesary skills and track record to advance their career in cancer related research.

In 2010, these grants were renamed to honour and remember the commitment and drive of a much respected and loved colleague, Suzanne Cavanagh, who believed in stewardship and supporting the next generation.  Suzanne's vision assisted many young people to grow and develop beyond their own expectations.

Recipient report templates

Successful research applicants since inception

Early Career Investigator Grants 2017

The smart surgical glove: a new tool to reduce the number of re-excision surgeries in breast cancer treatment

Chief investigator: Dr Lixin Chin - Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Associate Investigators:
Dr Brendan Kennedy, Prof Christobel Saunders

It is reported that 20-30% of patients undergoing breast conserving surgery for treatment of breast cancer require a second surgery because small amounts of cancer were missed during the initial surgery. Existing techniques are unable to assess the boundary of the surgical cavity. The judgement as to whether a second surgery is required is based solely on analysis of the excised tissue, which is available only some time (often days) after the surgery. This team are researching the development of
small, flexible, high resolution imaging probes in order to enable surgeons to assess the tumour cavity during the initial surgery, with the ultimate goal of reducing the need for second surgeries.

Funding: CCWA $35,000
Supported In the names of: Carnarvon Lions Club Cancer Research Foundation & the Estate of Daisy De Gennaro

Peptides from spider venom as new anti-cancer drugs

Chief investigator: Dr Evelyne Deplazes - Curtin University

Chemotherapy is used to treat many types of cancers. Unfortunately, chemotherapy often fails because cancer cells adapt and eventually no longer respond to the drug. This is known as chemotherapy resistance and affects the treatment of thousands of cancer patients every year. This study investigates a molecule called gomesin, which has been isolated from a Brazilian spider. Gomesin has been shown to kill cancer cells but little is known about how the peptide works. This research combines computer-based methods and experiments to investigate, in detail, the anti-cancer activity of gomesin. The results of this study will help the future development of new anti-cancer drugs that are less likely to cause chemotherapy resistance.

Funding:  CCWA $32,220
Fully supported In the name of: the Estate of Harold Marley

Digital technology to improve diagnosis of breast cancer

Chief investigator: Dr Benjamin Dessauvagie - Pathwest

Treatment of breast cancer is complex. The first step is usually surgery. Once removed the breast cancer is sent to a pathologist to confirm diagnosis and to provide additional information about the cancer. This additional information can give an idea of how aggressive a tumour is and whether aggressive therapy, which usually includes chemotherapy, is needed. However in up to 40% of cases, it remains difficult to know if a cancer is aggressive or not. This team have validated computer technology which can rapidly detect certain molecules (called biomarkers) on breast cancer pathology slides which provide additional information about cancer aggressiveness. The aim is to use this technology to assess the biomarkers in at least 1000 archived breast cancer specimens. This data will then be compared with how long it took for the breast cancer to come back, and how long the patient lived. This will determine the accuracy of this new cost effective technology in predicting an aggressive tumour and the potential need for chemotherapy.

Funding: CCWA $34,957
Supported In the names of: Deeny O’Shaunessy & The Women of the Greek Community

Exploring new ways to stop lung or breast cancer from spreading

Chief investigator: Dr Bo He - Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research

Cancer remains a deadly disease, in no small part because cancer spreads to distant organs (metastasis). This project will focus on prevention of spreading or – if it has already happened at time of surgery - how to attack and keep metastatic cancer under control. Tumour blood vessels are abnormally “leaky” and help cancer cells escape to other organs. The team have developed a new drug to tighten up these “leaky” vessels. This research uses preclinical models of lung and breast cancer to explore whether tightening of vessels can stop cancer spreading. Mice harbouring a cancer will be treated with this new drug and the changes studied. This research is also looking into what happens when cancer is cut out, similar to surgery in breast cancer patients. The aim is to find out whether this new drug together with a non-harmful dose of chemotherapy can keep small metastatic tumours that remain in the body after surgery under control. This is instead of using treatments like radiation or chemotherapy, which severely affects patients’ wellbeing.

Funding:  CCWA $35,000
Supported In the names: Dorothy and Bill Irwin Charitable Trust & Yvonne Baker Foundation

Treating bowel cancer - does the immune system have a role to play?

Chief investigator: Dr Melanie McCoy - University of Western Australia

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Australia with over 15,000 people diagnosed every year. The immune system plays an important role in controlling cancer, but the way in which it affects how well patients with bowel cancer respond to treatment isn’t well understood.
Drugs that stimulate immune cells to attack cancer (immunotherapies) are now routinely used in melanoma and lung cancer, with impressive results in some patients. Many of these drugs target what are known as ‘immune checkpoints’. These are found on immune cells and can dampen down immune responses, making the body less able to fight the cancer. The aim of this study is to determine whether immune checkpoints can influence how well patients with bowel cancer respond to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. We hope that the work will allow doctors to better predict who will respond well to standard treatment and who may benefit from drugs targeting the immune system.

Funding: CCWA $34,729
Fully supported In the name of: the Estate of Margaret Shoesmith


Early Career Investigator Grants 2016

Discovery of new anti-cancer drugs based on noscapine

Chief Investigator: Dr Mark Agostino - Curtin University
Associate Investigators:
Prof Peter J. Scammells, Dr Ben Capuano and Prof Ricardo Mancera

Cancer is a disease characterised by uncontrolled cell growth and division. One strategy generally able to be applied to treat many types of cancer involves the administration of drugs that arrest cell growth. These drugs often exhibit toxicity, can become ineffective over time, and are challenging and costly to produce. The aim of this project is to use a computer-based design approach to identify new molecules with potential as anticancer drugs based on the natural product, noscapine. These have the potential to exhibit less toxicity, remain effective over time and are simpler and more cost-effective to produce.

Funded:  CCWA $14,000
Supported In the name of: the Estate of Elfria Sibma who passed away from adult Ewings Sarcoma in 2013

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Isolation and study of circulating melanoma cells from the blood of patients diagnosed with metastatic melanoma

Chief Investigator: Dr Carlos Aya-Bonilla - Edith Cowan University

Associate Investigators: Prof Mel Ziman, Prof Michael Millward, Dr Majid Warkiani, Dr Elin Gray
Metastatic melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer as tumours spread quickly throughout the body (metastasis) and patients exhibit very poor survival rates. The aim of this research is to isolate live circulating tumour cells (CTCs) from the blood of metastatic melanoma patients using a novel and low-cost microfluidic device. This will enable the study of the potential of CTCs, as a non-invasive tool, to monitor the response of patients to treatment in future clinical settings. A further aim is to identify CTC subpopulations, based on gene profiles, within multiple single CTCs derived from a single patient. This will allow for the detection of genes associated with CTC origin, dissemination and invasion in melanoma metastasis.
Discovery of new anticancer drugs based on noscapine

Funded:  CCWA $35, 000
Supported In the name of
: Carnarvon Lions Club Cancer Research Foundation & Friends of Cancer Council WA

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The role of immune cells in blood to predict response to immunotherapy in melanoma and lung cancer 

Chief Investigator: Dr Samantha Bowyer - University of Western Australia
Associate Investigators:
Dr Tarek Meniawy, Prof Michael Millward and Dr Alistair Cook

Blood tests are a routine part of cancer treatment. The aim of this research is to identify if there are markers in the blood that will help select patients who will benefit from programmed-cell death (PD-1) inhibitor treatment. PD-1 inhibitor treatment is a type of immunotherapy (a therapy that enables the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells) used in melanoma and lung cancer. This project will be investigating whether this can be done before the treatment has started or in the first few weeks of treatment. The intention is to analyse types of immune cells in the blood and how they change in response to treatment.

Funded:  CCWA $34,739
Supported In the name of 
Jackson McDonald in honour of Dimo Christides and all members of the Jackson McDonald community whose lives have been affected by cancer & Friends of Cancer Council WA

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‘Sentinel' T cells in the skin protect against melanoma growth

Chief Investigator: Dr Jonathan Chee - Telethon Kids Institute
Associate Investigators:
Dr Jason Waithman, Dr Thomas Gebhardt

This research focuses on a group of sentinel immune cells in the skin called Tissue Resident Memory T cells (TRM). TRM cells are known to permanently reside in the skin after an infection at the same anatomical location. Here they act as ‘sentinels' by providing local protection against pathogens that might invade through the skin. In addition to protection against pathogens, it is possible that these same cells can also provide immune protection against melanoma of the skin. The aims of this project are to demonstrate whether TRM cells can control melanoma growth, to investigate their development in the skin when melanoma is present, and to define how immunotherapy and radiotherapy affect TRM function. This study has the potential to provide important insight into how the immune system controls skin melanoma.

Funded:  CCWA $35,000

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Is exercise safe and effective in reducing tumour activity, growth and spread for advanced prostate cancer patients with bone metastases?

Chief Investigator: Dr Nicolas Hart - Edith Cowan University
Associate Investigators:
Prof Robert Newton, Prof Daniel Galvao

Prostate cancer commonly spreads to the spine and pelvis. Exercise has shown an ability to slow tumour activity and growth. This project aims to provide a safe and supervised exercise program which also targets bones with secondary tumours to slow tumour growth, reduce bone pain, and increase survival.

Funded:  CCWA $34,742
Fully supported In the name of: 
the Estate of Harold Marley

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New blood based markers for monitoring and detecting oral cancers

Chief Investigator: Dr Annette Lim - University of Western Australia
Associate Investigators:
A/Prof Katie Meehan, Prof Wendy Erber, Dr Anitha Thomas, Clin/Prof, Joanna Dewar, Prof Michael Millward, Prof Camile Farah, Prof Peter Leedman, A/Prof Benjamin Solomon

This research studies cancer "exosomes" which represent fragments of the cancer shed into the bloodstream, known to be responsible for the spread of cancer. Exosome levels will be monitored in patients with precancerous lesions and oral tumours undergoing treatment. From the DNA found in exosomes molecular changes that drive cancer development and aggressiveness will be investigated.

Funded: CCWA $35,000
Supported In the name of:
the Ee Family & Leah Jane Cohen

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Early Career Investigator Grants 2015

Development of advanced high-throughput sequencing to diagnose myelodysplastic syndrome

Chief investigator: Dr Belinda Guo - University of Western Australia
Associate investigators:
A/Prof Kym Mina, A/Prof Kathy Heel, Dr Rebecca Howman

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of bone marrow-related disorders, resulting in the inability to make enough normal blood cells.  This reduces quality of life for patients, increases risk of infection, bleeding and cancer (acute myeloid leukaemia). Current diagnosis is dependent on the clinician's opinion and requires an invasive bone marrow examination.  Many cases of MDS remain undiagnosed, causing additional medical and financial problems.  This work aims to generate a less-invasive method for early diagnosis of MDS. New DNA sequencing technology will be assessed to detect genetic abnormalities (mutations) associated with MDS.  This projects aims to develop a sensitive and accurate method for diagnosing MDS by detecting mutations in a blood sample, which may remove the need for a diagnostic bone marrow examination. If successful, this new approach will not only improve diagnosis and patient survival, but also offer improved personalised care to each patient.

Funded:  CCWA $35,000
Supported in the names of
: Deeny O'Shauhnessy and Bunbury Toyota
To develop a sensitive and accurate method for diagnosing bone marrow dysfunction, or myelodysplasia, based on the detection of mutations in a blood sample. The success of this new approach will result in improved diagnosis, patient care and survival.

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A preliminary study to identify biological markers in blood that predict if a patient with advanced melanoma will respond to treatment

Chief investigator: Dr Muhammad Adnan Khattak - Edith Cowan University
Associate investigator:
Dr Thomas Ferguson

Project description Advanced melanoma is one of the mostaggressive cancers with poor long term survival. Drugs targeting the immune system have improved the outcomes of advanced melanoma patients and they are increasingly being used in the clinic to treat patients. These drugs are expensive and have side effects, however only some patients will benefit from this therapy.  Currently there are no tests available to predict if a melanoma patient will respond to treatment with these drugs. Therefore there is an urgent need to identify blood or other biological markers that predict response to treatment and survival outcome with these therapies. Circulating tumour cells extracted from patient blood samples have previously been investigated in various cancers including melanoma. High levels of tumour cells circulating in the blood usually indicates poor prognosis. However we do not know whether higher levels before treatment, or any changes in the circulating tumour cells as a result of treatment with immune targeted agents, can predict response and survival.  This study will look at the levels of tumour cells in the blood of advanced melanoma patients before and after they receive treatment with immune targeted agents to see if it can predict outcomes. If proven, this will enable us to better identify patients most likely to respond to treatment with immune targeted agents and save cancer patients from the side effects that they could experience from drugs that are unlikely to benefit them. This will also have huge cost savings to the health system.

Aim: To evaluate the significance of circulating tumour cells as a marker of response to treatment with immune targeted therapy in advanced melanoma.
Funded:  CCWA $35,000
Fully supported In the name of: Australia Post

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Investigation of mutations causing progression of follicular lymphoma

Chief investigator: Dr Connull Leslie - Pathwest

Follicular lymphoma is a common tumour of the lymph glands (estimated 800 new cases in Australia per year), which may be slow growing but is often aggressive and causes death. There are distinct subgroups of follicular lymphoma, occurring in people of different ages and at different sites of origin within the body. However, how the different types of follicular lymphoma develop is not completely understood. Recent studies have identified that recurrent mutations (changes in cell growth instructions) may have a role but how these are related to the potential for aggressive disease and need for different therapies has not been well studied.  This research will investigate this relationship by analysing archived tissue samples of follicular lymphoma. The range of mutations detected using state-of-the-art recently acquired next-generation DNA sequencing techniques will be compared with response to treatment. It is hoped the findings will improve future patient treatment and contribute to understanding the biology underlying how follicular lymphoma develops.  In addition, this project will specifically benefit the Western Australian community by providing the state's premier clinical pathology service with experience using a state-of-the-art diagnostic platform.

Aim: To improve our ability to treat follicular lymphoma by better understanding the disease.
Funded:  CCWA $35,000

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The relationship between immune cell response at tumour sites and recurrence of ovarian cancer in patients treated with chemotherapy and surgery

Chief investigator: Dr Tarek Meniawy - University of Western Australia
Associate investigator:
Dr Melanie McCoy, Prof Anna Nowak, Prof Yee Leung

Although ovarian cancer is rare, it is a common cause of death from cancer in Australia. This is because it is hard to detect early. Many patients are diagnosed at a late stage and less than half are cured of their disease.  Research has shown that the immune system plays an important role in ovarian cancer, and that the subtypes of immune cells found in and around the tumours are an important predictor of relapse.  ‘Immunotherapy', which targets the immune system to treat cancer rather than killing cancer cells directly, is a rapidly emerging and important approach to cancer therapy, and has resulted in major breakthroughs in clinical trials in melanoma and lung cancer.  This project aims to identify the types of immune cells present within ovarian tumours before and after chemotherapy, by examining stored samples from 70 patients with ovarian cancer who underwent a biopsy, received chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, then had surgery to remove their disease. The types of immune cells will be correlated with recurrence and survival outcomes. These results will contribute to our understanding of the relationship between chemotherapy and immune changes in tumours, to better inform future strategies aimed at optimising the use of immunotherapy and chemotherapy for treating ovarian cancer.

Aim: To study the influence of immune cells on response to chemotherapy, and on the risk of ovarian cancer recurrence.
Funded:  CCWA $34,985
Supported In the names of: Greg and Taryn Major, The Women of the Greek Community and Roslyn Grenville Warrick

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Toward better prostate radiation therapy treatments

Chief investigator: Dr Pejman Rowshan Farzad - University of Western Australia
Associate investigator:
Prof Martin Ebert, Prof Sean Bydder.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and poses a significant social burden. Radiation therapy is a commonlyused method for treatment of localised prostate cancer. The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy or damage cancer cells with high energy X-rays with little or no damage to surrounding normal tissues. Therefore, radiation must be delivered as accurately as possible to the cancer cells to achieve optimal outcomes. However, internal motion of the prostate as a result of breathing and other involuntary actions of the body introduces inaccuracies in the treatment procedure, which could lead to irreversible damage to healthy critical organs such as the bladder and rectum.  This project introduces a novel method to detect the tumour position during radiation delivery using real-time digital imaging, and automatically moving the patient so that the tumour is not missed. This will allow the simple adaptation of currently-available treatment devices (linear accelerators) to enable more accurate treatment delivery. Current methods for tumour tracking require dedicated treatment machines or application of complicated changes to the linear accelerator hardware.  The aim of this study is to provide a system that can be used on currently used linear accelerators with no modifications to their structure and with improved accuracy. Results of this work will be highly beneficial to patients with prostate cancer, and will facilitate the application of similar techniques in other cancer sites.

Aim: To investigate the use of real-time digital imaging and automated patient positioning to improve accuracy of current treatment devices (linear accelerators) for prostate cancer radiation therapy.
Funded:  CCWA $35,00
Supported In the names of Friends of: Carnarvon Lions Club Cancer Research Foundation and the Estate of Harold Patrick Marley

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Early Career Investigator Grants 2014

Morphology and molecular profiling of interval colorectal cancers

Chief Investigator: Dr Claire Harma - Sir Charles Gairdiner Hospital
Associate Investigators:
Dr Hooi Ee, Dr Muna Salama, Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Dr Benhur Amanuel

Bowel cancer is a major public health issue. However, when diagnosed at an early stage, many bowel cancer patients can be treated successfully. Colonoscopy is the best test for diagnosing and preventing bowel cancer as it can identify polyps so they can be removed. Polyps are growths that develop on the lining of the bowel due to abnormal cell growth, and some can develop into bowel cancer. Finding polyps and removing them can prevent people from developing bowel cancer, as well as help detect this cancer early if it is present. However, a small number of people may develop bowel cancer after having a colonoscopy that is negative for bowel cancer (negative colonoscopy). The aim of this project is to investigate why this happens and will review the biology of bowel cancers from WA patients who had a negative colonoscopy less than three years before their bowel cancer diagnosis. These bowel cancers are called ‘interval’ cancers and there are three possible ways these cancers might occur. The bowel cancer could be missed during colonoscopy because of poor colonoscopy skills; polyps might not have been removed completely during the colonoscopy; or the interval cancer could be a fast growing (aggressive) type of bowel cancer that couldn’t be found during the colonoscopy because it was too small or grew after the procedure. Understanding how interval bowel cancers develop has important implications for both bowel cancer screening programs and future training for health professionals that carry out colonoscopies.

Aim: To take a closer look at the biology of bowel cancers that develop after a negative screening colonoscopy (known as interval cancers) to help determine the possible reasons behind their development.
Funded: CCWA $21,000
In the names of: In memory of Barry Bresland and Swan Athletic Senior Citizens

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Emu oil and protection from inflammation-asociated colorectal cancer

Chief Investigator: Dr Suzanne Mashtoub
Associate Investigators:
Prof Deborah Trinder, Prof Ian Lawrance, Prof Gordon Howarth

Patients suffering from the incurable condition ulcerative colitis (UC) are at a high risk of developing colon (large intestine) cancer. This is due to long-term (persistent) inflammation of the intestine, which can cause cells to grow uncontrollably, and in some people lead to cancer. Therefore, it may be possible to prevent the development of cancer by stopping inflammation.

Emu oil, extracted from emu fat, has been shown to reduce inflammation and protect the intestine against other intestinal diseases. This project will investigate whether emu oil can
help prevent colon cancer development in mice that usually develop inflammation-associated colon cancer. A colonoscope (camera) will be used to see how emu oil affects the growth and development of cancer in these mice. Laboratory techniques will also be used to investigate how the emu oil affects the cells in the colon.

Aim: To determine whether emu oil can prevent or reduce the development of colon cancer caused by prolonged inflammation.
Funded:  CCWA $25,000
Supported in the name of:
Deeny O’Shaughnessy

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Sensitive blood-based monitoring of breast cancer

Chief Investigator: Asst/Prof Katie Meehan - University of Western Australia
Associate Investigators:
W/Prof Wendy Erber, Dr Jannet Harvey, A/Prof Kathy Heel, Dr Tania Tabone

Breast cancer is the most common cancer, and one of the leading causes of death in women. Breast cancer relapse occurs in up to 30% of patients and current methods for monitoring patients after treatment (physical examination, mammogram and measurement of serum biomarkers) are generally non-specific or sensitive enough to detect relapse early enough to implement alternative therapies.

This project will apply the latest genomic sequencing technologies to examine breast cancer associated changes in blood DNA that occur after treatment and during relapse. The expectation is that evidence of a breast cancer associated change will provide a sensitive indication of cancer recurrence. This will improve patient outcome and quality of life by: (1) identifying patients at high risk of relapse after therapy so more intensive therapy can be given at the time of diagnosis; and (2) provide earlier salvage therapy (the best type of therapy that can be provided when the cancer has progressed to an almost untreatable stage) upon relapse.

Aim: To establish a more effective way of detecting disease recurrence at an early stage in individuals who have previously undergone treatment for breast cancer.
Funded: CCWA  $25,000
Supported the name of: Annadora Horne and Thelma Norris Trust Fund

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Adjuvant therapy in a pre-clinical melanoma brain tumour model

Chief Investigator: Dr Elke Seppanen - Telethon Kids Institute
Associate Investigators:
Dr Jason Waithman, Dr Raelene Endersby, Dr Vanessa Fear, Dr Meegan Howlett

Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the pigment cells (melanocytes) of our skin. Although melanoma is the least common skin cancer, it is the most serious because it can be fast growing and without intervention, spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body, including the brain.

Once melanoma has spread to the brain, current treatments for melanoma patients are limited and largely ineffective. The spread of melanoma to the brain is the direct cause of death in most patients.

The first stage of this project is to establish an animal model that can be used to study melanoma that has spread to the brain. Once this model has been developed it will be used to understand how the immune system – the body’s mechanism for fighting disease – responds to the development of these brain tumours. In addition, the model will be used to test two new treatments which have been developed in this laboratory, to see if they can be used in combination with existing treatments to treat melanoma that has spread to the brain.

Aim: To develop a pre-clinical model of melanoma that shows the spread of melanoma to the brain. Once established, this model will be used to help understand how the body’s immune system responds to this invasion and to test new treatments that have been specifically developed to boost the immune system against this type of cancer.
CCWA $25,000
Supported in the names of:
Australia Post, Carnarvon Lions Club Cancer Research Foundation and Friends of Cancer Council WA

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Early Career Investigator Grants 2013

Objectively-measured physical activity and sedentary time among Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivors

Chief Investigator: Dr Terry Boyle - WAIMR. Dr Brigid Lynch, Dr Jeff Valance

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and its treatment may result in ongoing physical and psychosocial difficulties for the 60% of patients who survive the disease. There is strong evidence that modifiable behavioural risk factors can influence the health of cancer survivors. Of note, a small body of research has shown physical activity to be a helpful method for improving the health and well-being of NHL survivors.  However, past research has relied on self-reported physical activity, which is inaccurate and prone to overestimation. Using accelerometers, which are devices that provide valid and reliable information about physical activity and sedentary time patterns, this project will measure the physical activity and sedentary time of NHL survivors, and examine associations with indicators of health and well-being.

Aim: To accurately measure the amount of physical activity and sitting that NHL survivors are performing, and to investigate whether physical activity and sitting time influence indicators of health and well-being.
Funded:  CCWA $24,945
Supported in the name of
: The Axford Memorial Research Grant and Leah Jane Cohen Fund

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Targeted medical imaging: the future of medical diagnostics

Chief Investigator: Dr Rebecca Fuller - University of Western Australia
Associate Investigator: Mr Mike House, Dr Robert Woodward, Prof Tim St Pierre

Medical imaging techniques are routinely used in the diagnosis of cancer. Current techniques are unable to image very small tumours, resulting in the delayed diagnosis of these cancers.  The development of a Quantitative Molecular Imaging (QMI) represents a solution to this problem.  This imaging method will use an agent that targets specific molecules in the body.  It will allow the location, quantity and the degree of activity of tumours to be determined.

Aim: To develop a model based on experimental data, which in the future could build upon existing imaging techniques by the targeting of biomarkers associated with cancer.
CCWA $25,000
Supported in the name of
: Deeny O'Shaughnessy and Australia Post

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Malignant pleural effusion: tracking anti-tumour immunity at the effector site

Chief Investigator: Dr Alison McDonnell - University of Western Australia 
Associate Investigator: Prof Anna Nowak, Adj/Prof Richard Lake

The average survival from mesothelioma and lung cancer is only 9 to 12 months.  New treatments are being developed that combine chemotherapy with drugs designed to activate the immune system; however, successful combination of these treatments requires an understanding of how chemotherapy affects immune cells in humans.  Previous research has discovered that chemotherapy causes immune changes in the blood which predict for longer survival.  What is not known is whether these changes are the same or different to those occurring inside the tumour.  This study will examine how chemotherapy alters immune cells in fluid adjacent to lung tumours compared with blood.

Aim: To examine how chemotherapy alters immune cells in fluid adjacent to lung tumours (pleural effusion) compared with peripheral blood samples in patients with mesothelioma and lung cancer.
  CCWA $22,000
Supported in the name of
: Peter Huggett

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Engineering tools to repress MYCN in neuroblastoma

Chief Investigator: Dr Robert White - Edith Cowan University
Associate Investigator: Dr Meghan Thomas

Neuroblastoma is the leading cause of cancer death in Australian children under the age of 5. It is a complex cancer which is frequently very aggressive. How aggressive the cancer is has been linked to overactivity in a gene called MYCN. This research will use state-of-the-art technology to develop new tools to decrease the activity of MYCN. These tools will then be used on cancer cells grown in the lab to reduce the aggressiveness of tumours. The goal is to add to the arsenal of weapons available to clinicians to improve the treatment of this destructive cancer.

Aim: To develop, produce and test in the laboratory, a new technological advancement which may reduce the severity of some neuroblastoma tumours.
CCWA $24,994
Supported in the name of
: Team Mission Possible

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Early Career Investigator Grants 2012

The effect of whole-body vibration therapy on bone loss in breast cancer survivors

Chief Investigators: Dr Michael Barker - Edith Cowan University
Associate Investigators
: Prof Robert Newton, A/Prof Daniel Galvao, Prof Nigel Spry, Prof David Joseph

This study aims to examine the effect of whole-body vibration stimulus on markers of bone health in breast cancer patients prescribed aromatase inhibitors. It is expected that vibration, delivered by standing on a gently vibrating platform three times a week for 12 weeks, will decrease bone breakdown.  This will be the first study to investigate the use of this novel therapy in this group of cancer survivors.  This project addresses the important problem of accelerated bone loss among survivors of one of the most prevalent cancers in the community, and represents a new approach to their long-term chronic disease management

Aim:  to improve the quality of life of people treated for breast cancer
Fully supported in the name of:
Momentum Forum

Mode and molecular mechanisms of tea tree oil-induced tumour cell death in vivo

Chief Investigators: Dr Cornelia Bertram - University Of Western Australia
Associate Investigators
: Dr Demelza Ireland, A/Prof Manfred Beilharz, Dr Sara Greay

Tea tree oil (TTO) contains natural components which have well recognised anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Research has recently shown that TTO can induce cell death and inhibit cell growth of aggressive tumour cells and that topical application of TTO can cause the regression of tumours under the skin of mice. Preliminary evidence suggests that this is due to direct toxic effects of TTO that may result in cell death by necrosis or apoptosis. To understand the anti-tumour effect of TTO, a detailed investigation of the mechanisms of cell death is warranted.

Aim:  to understand the underlying mechanisms of cell death caused by Tea Tree Oil so that it can be developed as an effective anticancer treatment
Supported in the names of:
Deeny O'Shaughessy and Ladies Auciliary of Cancer Council WA

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Does aging impact anti-cancer immune responses?

Chief Investigators: Dr Connie Jackaman - Curtin University
Associate Investigators:
Dr Delia Nelson, Prof Miranda Grounds

As the average age of our population rises, more people will present with cancer in years to come.  However, immune function can decrease with age, which may impact on cancer incidence and anti-cancer treatments which require a functional immune system.  Eradication of most cancers is not possible using standard therapies. Immunotherapy has shown promise however, most preclinical testing is performed in young adult mice, which does not represent the human disease.  This project aims to characterise anti-cancer immune responses during disease progression, with standard and new treatment strategies in young versus aged mice.

Aim: to contribute to the knowldege of anti-cancer immune functioning with the ultimate aim of improving cancer treatments.
Supported in the name of:
The Ee Family Research Grant

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What happens to PAX 3 in melanoma cells?

Chief Investigators: Ms Sandra Medic - Edith Cowan University
Associate Investigators
: A/Prof Mel Ziman

Melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer, which develops from pigment producing cells in skin called melanocytes.  PAX3 is the key factor that regulates development and function of normal melanocytes and melanoma cells.  Previous research has found that PAX3 plays different roles in melanoma cells and normal melanocytes, and it does so by activating or inactivating different genes responsible for cell survival, proliferation and motility. But it is not know exactly why and how PAX3 chooses different target genes. This project will investigate what happens to PAX3 to make it change its function, causing normal cells to become cancer cells.

Aim:  to further understand how melanoma progresses so that more effective, targeted treatments can be developed
Fully supported in the name of:
Ernst and Young

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Early Career Investigator Grants 2011


Feasibility and efficacy of resistance exercise in prostate cancer survivors with bone metastases

Chief Investigator: Dr Prue Cormie
Associate Investigators: A/Prof Daniel Galvão, Prof Robert Newton, Dr Nigel Spry

Exercise has been established to be safe and result in improved physical function and quality of life for men with localised prostate cancer. However, little information exists regarding the safety and efficacy of exercise in prostate cancer survivors whose cancer has spread to bone. Patients with bone metastases not only experience side effects from prostate cancer treatment but additional complications including bone pain, skeletal fractures, spinal cord compressions and fatigue after chemotherapy. These complications negatively impact physical function and quality of life and prevent patients with bone metastases following established exercise guidelines. This study will determine the safety and efficacy of resistance exercise in prostate cancer survivors with bone metastases. The results are expected to refine exercise guidelines for patients whose cancer has spread to bone.

Aim:  to improve the quality of life experienced by those patients whose cancer has spread to the bone.
Supported in the name of: West Coast Eagles Football Club

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Characterising the tumour suppressor properties of the novel repressor protein RP58

Chief Investigator: Dr Mark Cruickshank
Associate Investigators: Dr Daniela Ulgiati, Prof Lawrence Abraham

Development of diverse cell-types depends on the combined action of special proteins called gene-specific transcription factors that control cell-specific gene expression. These processes are crucial for the generation of different organs, tissues and cells in healthy individuals. Disruption of key transcription factors underlies the disease progression of many disorders including cancer. A family of transcription factors bind to a specific DNA sequence, the E-box (CANNTG). Deregulation of several of these transcription factors has been observed in a wide range of cancers including muscle, brain and blood cancers. RP58 is a novel repressor transcription factor that binds E-boxes and has been characterised as a suppressor of tumour growth. This study aims to establish if RP58 has a role in regulating E-box binding factors in blood cancer cells.

Aim to nvestigate the biological mechanisms that prevent tumours from forming in order to understand this process better.
Supported in the names of:
Ladies Auxillarty of Cancer Council WA,The Lion Allan Sanderson Memorial, The Pearl Bethel Allan Memorial and Wayne Bruce Lyon

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Melanoma cell adhesion molecule (MCAM): translating cell adhesion into melanoma metastasis

Chief Investigator: Dr Danielle Dye
Associate Investigator: Prof Deirdre Coombe

Melanoma cell adhesion molecule (MCAM) is a protein that is expressed on the surface of melanoma cells and contributes to their ability to invade and spread through the body.A lot of MCAM is found on the surface of most melanoma cells but little is known aboutwhere it is located inside the cell, what proteins it interacts with, how it cycles to and fromthe cell surface and exactly how MCAM expression leads to invasion and migration of melanoma cells. This project aims to investigate the synthesis, recycling and degradationof MCAM within the cell and how this relates to cell migration. This will provide further information about how MCAM contributes to the melanoma metastasis.

Aim:  to investigate an important mechanism that contributes to the spread of melanoma cells.
Supported in the names of: Australia Post, Deeny O’Shaughnessy, Edith Dorothy Chandler, Maslin Family, St Ive’s Retirement Village Mandurah

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Towards improving cancer outcomes for Aboriginal Australians: Cancer service providers’ experiences with Aboriginal people in Western Australia

Chief Investigator: Dr Shaouli Shahid
Associate Investigator: Prof Sandra Thompson

Some progress has been made in understanding Aboriginal Australians’ beliefs and understanding about cancer and their experiences with cancer services. However, little is known of cancer care providers’ thoughts and perceptions regarding Aboriginal patients and their experiences of providing best possible care to Aboriginal people. This study aims to (i) document through qualitative research, for the first time, the perspectives of service providers about Aboriginal cancer patients in Western Australia; (ii) identify service providers’ experiences and concerns in managing cancer treatment in Aboriginal people, and (iii) explore opportunities to overcome gaps in communication between mainstream service providers and Aboriginal people. Some qualitative data from health service providers has already been collected and this project will allow us to collect the additional data that is needed to ensure comprehensive information is available from its analysis. Findings from this work will inform the development of resources to support both Aboriginal people in accessing cancer services and address development of culturally appropriate resources and training for health providers who contribute to the quality of care of this disadvantaged group.

Aim:  to improve the quality of cancer information and care for Aboriginal people in Western Australia.
Fully supported in the name of: West Coast Eagles Football Club

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Early Career Investigator Grants 2010


Regulation of mitochondrial RNA processing in prostate cancer

Chief Investigators: Dr Stefan Davies
Associate Investigators: Dr Aleksandra Filipovska, Dr Oliver Rackham

This project will investigate a newly discovered protein that is involved in the expression of proteins in mitochondria, the energy regulating and producing components of cells. Mutations in this protein lead to susceptibility to prostate cancer, one of the leading causes of death in Australian men. This project will, for the first time, characterise the role of this protein and how its dysfunction leads to prostate cancer. We will investigate if changing the level of this protein affects the function of cancer cells and if it is possible to reverse or rescue tumorigenic cells or selectively destroy them.
Supported in the names of: The Pearl Bethel Allan Memorial and Edna Maskell

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Vascular Normalization and Cancer Therapy

Chief Investigators: Dr Mitali Manzur
Associate Investigators: Prof Ruth Ganss

As cancers grow, they form abnormal blood vessels which prevent effective anti-cancer therapy.  We have recently shown that this process can be reversed to “normalize” blood vessels in tumours, and consequently improve tumour treatment. I will investigate the impact of vessels normalization on the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Additionally, this project aims to analyze the changes which occur in blood vessels after normalization and identify the key players involved in this process.  Importantly, these identified proteins represent potential targets for pharmacological intervention, and may possibly greatly enhance current anti-cancer treatment regimes.

Fully supported in the name of: Australia Post

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Metabolomic profiling of glucocorticoid resistance in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

Chief Investigators: Dr Amy Samuels
Associate Investigators: Mr Martin Firth, Mr Richard Francis, Dr Kim Carter, Prof Ursula Kees

Children diagnosed with leukaemia receive modern therapy consisting of up to ten drugs given over more than two years. Despite cure rates approaching 80%, some patients relapse and face a dismal prognosis. Resistance to steroid drugs is a major cause of relapse. Significantly, the mechanisms important in the development of steroid-resistance are not well understood. We have discovered steroid-resistant cells utilise sugar as an energy source in a different way to sensitive cells. To define this critical difference we will use a novel metabolomics profiling approach to identify key molecules and pathways deregulated in steroid-resistant leukaemia cells. Understanding the mechanisms underlying drug resistance in cancer is critical and is likely to provide novel screening strategies and drug targets for exploitation.

Supported in the names of: The Lion Alan Sanderson Memorial, Jordan HillsRoss Clark and Deeny O’Shaughnessy

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Transcriptome sequencing to identify novel gene fusions in a rare, aggressive carcinoma

Chief Investigators: Dr Katherine Thompson
Associate Investigators: Dr Kim Carter, Mr Richard Francis, Prof Ursula Kees

Genetic changes are one of the hallmarks of cancer; these include fusions between different chromosomes, present only in cancer cells, and not in the patient’s normal cells. Targeting such fusions has led to vital drug discoveries, providing cancer therapies that do not harm normal cells, thus avoiding side effects. We have a teenage patient who was diagnosed with a currently incurable cancer. Our study of the cancer cells from this individual found that an important gene on chromosome 19 has been fused to an unknown gene on chromosome 6. We intend to use a novel technique, transcriptome sequencing analysis, to characterise the chromosomal fusions present in this disease. Investigating the underlying genetics of this cancer may provide avenues for more targeted and effective therapies.

Fully supported in the name of: The West Coast Eagles Football Club.


Daffodil BulletECI Grants application process page 

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