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Click the headings below to find out more about the projects we have been able to fund in 2023, thanks to community donations and support.

The Cancer Council WA Research Excellence Awards were established in 2013 to recognise and celebrate the achievements of Western Australia’s best and brightest cancer researchers. They also serve to reinforce the importance of cancer research as an aspirational career choice and provide encouragement for the next generation of leading cancer researchers.

Award: Cancer Council WA Cancer Researcher of the Year
Recipient: Clinical Professor Chan Cheah
Description: Clinical Professor Chan Cheah is a haematologist with expertise in lymphoma and clinical trials. Ranked amongst the top 12 lymphoma researchers globally Chan has had a huge impact upon blood cancer research, with enormously improved access to clinical trials and cutting-edge therapeutics for Western Australians. This award recognises an individual who has made the most outstanding contribution to cancer research over the past three years.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,000
Supported: In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA


Award: Professor Bruce Armstrong Career Achievement Award
Recipient: Emeritus Professor George Yeoh
Description: Emeritus Professor George Yeoh is recognised for his tremendous contributions to cancer research throughout his research career; his tireless efforts to serve the scientific community in Perth and Australia; his building of national and international collaborations; his dedication to mentoring scientists and medical doctors; and his many advisory roles. This award recognises a senior cancer researcher who has a history of significant achievement in cancer research and a strong record of leadership in administration, advocacy, and promotion of cancer research.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,000
Supported: In the name of Jill Tilly


Our Research Project Grants aim to provide one to two years of support to help local, world-class cancer researchers further their research. Grants are assessed by the Cancer Council WA Research Grants Advisory Committee.

Grant applications are assessed on the basis of quality, practicality, value for money and contribution to the advancement of cancer knowledge.

See below for the 2023 Cancer Council WA Research Project Grants.

Project title: Improving survival rates for children with aggressive brain cancer using their own, unique immune system
Lead researcher: Dr Raelene Enderby
Institution: The University of Western Australia – Telethon Kids Institute
Project description: The problem – Brain cancer kills more Australian children than any other disease. We study ependymoma, which usually occurs in children younger than five. Patients have few treatment options other than surgery and radiotherapy and sadly, approximately 40% will die from their disease. We urgently need more effective therapies.
Our innovation – A new cancer treatment is immunotherapy, where the patient’s immune system is recruited to fight cancer. Immunotherapy is very successful for some adult cancers, but not yet childhood brain cancer. This is likely because the immune system in childhood brain cancer is unique and most immunotherapies:

  • Utilise immune cells that are rarely found in the brain
  • Have been developed for adults and tested in adult preclinical models
  • Have not been designed to complement existing front-line therapies that are proven to work

To address these gaps in knowledge, we identified a novel immunotherapy drug called magrolimab which harnesses immune cells abundant in children’s brains. We pioneered methods to grow and treat tumours in the brains of very young mice, to mirror cancer growing in a child’s brain. Initial investigations prove that the tumours and immune systems are different in child compared to adult models. We tested magrolimab combined with radiation in these mice and it eradicated an aggressive brain cancer called meduloblastoma. In this project, we will determine if the novel treatment is also effective for ependymoma. We are uniquely placed to translate our findings into new international clinical trials that will benefit WA children first.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $119,890
Supported: In the names of The Annadora Horne & Thelma Norris Trust Fund, Mercedes College and Swan Athletics Senior Citizens.


Project title: Kids are not small adults: finding new effective drugs specific to childhood cancers
Lead researcher: Dr Omar Elaskalani
Institution: The University of Western Australia – Telethon Kids Institute
Project description: Due to the rarity of childhood cancer, clinical trials take years to recruit significant patient numbers. Consequently, the selection of new therapies to conduct a clinical trial requires stringent preclinical evidence of efficacy using mouse models. However, all preclinical drug efficacy studies are conducted using fully developed adult animals, whereas childhood cancers arise in the context of actively growing tissues. These adult models completely overlook important age-related differences in the tumour environment and the immune system in children. Evidence from other research fields suggest that adult and children immune system respond differently (eg COVID-19).
To address these challenges, we have devloped a world-first “paediatric oncology preclinical research pipeline” by implanting cancer cells into mice at an age equivalent to a child. We have established models for the three most common paediatric cancers: leukaemia, brain cancer, and sarcoma.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $110,000
Supported: In the name of John Septimus Roe Anglican Community School – Me No Hair


Project title: Targeting a single protein in immune cells to both diagnose and treat triple negative breast cancer
Lead researcher: A/Prof Fiona Pixley
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: While newer therapies have greatly improved survival for women with breast cancers that are positive for hormone receptors or another type of receptor called HER2, these drugs do not work for women with triple negative breast cancer. If it has spread outside the cancerous lump, survival plummets, and new treatments are urgently needed. We have identified a protein, Hck, with two functions in breast cancer: it increases growth of the cancer and it signposts precisely where invasion is occurring. We aim not only to target Hck to treat triple negative breast cancer but also to utilise it to detect invasive regions in breast cancer specimens.

Hck is only found in macrophages, an immune cell type found in large numbers in triple negative breast cancer. We have previously shown that the most dangerous macrophages are those that invade surrounding organs in the body and encourage cancer cells to follow them. Recently we have shown that active Hck turns on macrophage invasion while inhibition of Hck stops macrophages and accompanying cancer cells from invading.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $116,650
Supported: In the name of Jill Tilly


Project title: Detection and treatment of a new aggressive subtype of ovarian cancer
Lead researcher: Dr Emily Golden
Institution: The University of Western Australia – Harry Pekins Institute of Medical Research
Project description: Ovarian Cancer (OC) is one of the most deadly and devastating cancers. It is often discovered at a late-stage, and these patients have very few treatment options. Thus, the 5-year survival for OC patients is only 48%. We discovered that 10% of all OCs have extra copies of a new gene found in our laboratory, called AAMDC. These AAMDC positive patients have the worst survival, and their tumours are resistant to cisplatin – one of the only treatments available.

We aim to firstly develop a clinically-relevant test to identify the patients who have the AAMDC repeat. We will also study the expression of the AAMDC protein in a cohort of more than 200 archived samples from OC patients in WA. We will then correlate the presence of AAMDC repeat and that of the protein, with available clinical data (survival and treatment). The detection of AAMDC should identify the patients that develop treatment resistance.

Secondly, we aim to develop completely new targeted treatments that are specifically for this subset of patients. New treatments should improve the response of OC cells to cisplatin treatment. Our new agents are small versions of AAMDC, called AAMDC-interference peptides (AAMDC-iPEPs). We will test if the peptides kill the OC cells first in cell lines and then next in pre-clinical studies (mouse models).

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $117,011
Supported: In the name of Patrica New


Project title: Using platelet in the blood as a more accessible test to assess treatment response in patients with bone marrow cancer
Lead researcher: Dr Belinda Guo
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Myelofibrosis is an aggressive bone marrow cancer that disrupts production of blood cells. It is relatively rare, but is highly debilitating with increased infections, bleeding and lethargy. Patients are also at increased risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia and bone marrow failure, and have a median overall survival of 3 – 5 years. The only possible cure is with bone marrow transplant. However, this is a risky procedure and some patients will still relapse. The question is who and when? We will address this using a new blood-based test that we have invented. With this test we can detect specific changes in the blood of patients diagnosed with myelofibrosis. We aim to determine if these changes can be reversed by a transplant. To address this, we will use our blood test to analyse samples from patients before and after receiving a bone marrow transplant. We will compare two types of transplant and see whether the platelets return to normal. We anticipate that if the changes disappear and the platelets are normal, that the patient has been cured. On the other hand, if the abnormalities remain, then this will indicate the cancer persists and more treatment will be required. This will indicate that our blood test has the potential to be used as a much less invasive monitoring tool than painful bone marrow tests.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000
Supported: In the names of Deeny O’Shaughnessy, The Joseph & Betty Pitschel Pain Relief Fund and the Women of the Greek Community


Project title: Novel therapies for triple negative breast cancer
Lead researcher: A/Prof Pilar Blancafort
Institution: The University of Western Australia – Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Project description: Triple negative breast cancers (TNBCs), comprising ~15 – 20% of all breast cancers (BCs), do not express molecules used to target the other subtypes; thus, these patients don’t have any available targeted therapy. TNBCs often produce disease-spread (metastases) and become resistant to chemotherapies. TNBCs have one of the poorest survivals, accounting for ~50% of all BC deaths (~1000 death per year) and the median-survival of metastatic TNBC is only 13 – 18 months.

The purpose of the research is to develop novel targeted treatments for TNBC. We will harness state-of-the-art technologies (named CRISPR) to shut down the key genes that cause cancer spread and treatment-resistance. These genes, named ZEB1, TWIST1, SNAIL and SLUG, work together to activate metastatis and therapy-resistance. They also disable the immune-system from either recognising or killing tumour cells. Aim 1 – we will investigate the molecular changes in the TNBC cells after we treat them with CRISPR. We will study if TNBC cells become sensitive to particular drugs that are either approved for cancer (chemo or immune-based therapies) or in clinical use for other diseases. We will also identify novel drugs, which will be tested in start-of-the-art pre-clinical trials for their ability to kill TNBCs derived from patients. In Aim 2, we propose to systematically deliver the CRISPR treatment in animal models of TNBC. We will study if CRISPR prevents disease spread and sensitises TNBC to chemo and immune-based therapies.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $119,349
In the name of The Peter and Iris Cook Grant for Metastases Research


Project title: Using prophylactic antibiotic to prevent infections of drainage tubes placed in cancer patients for removing cancer fluid in the chest cavity; A multicentre randomized trial
Lead researcher: Prof Gary Lee
Institution: The University of Western Australia – Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital
Project description: Practically all cancers can spread to the pleura (surface of the lung) generating litres of fluid within the chest. These malignant pleural effussions (MPEs) affect particularly patients with mesothelioma (95%), lung and breast cancers (30%), causing distressing breathlessness and requires a painful fluid drainage procedures.
Indwelling pleural catheter (IPC) has revolutionised care of MPE. Implanted between the ribs, this purpose-designed tube allows regular fluid evacuation without further invasive interventions or hospitilisations. The biggest concern of IPC use is infection (of the chest and skin), which occurs in 1-in-5 patients, oftenn needing hospital admissions and interupts cancer treatment.
IPC care shares many similarities with that of peritneal dialysis (PD) catheters used for treating kidney failure. Research on PD found that mupirocin, a commonly-used topical antibiotic, can significantly prevent catheter-related infections. Our pilot data showed that applying mupirocin regularly is feasible and well-tolerated by IPC patients.
The TAP-IPC is randomised trial to determine of application of mupirocin around the catheter reduces IPC infections in 220 patients from centres of the Australasian MPE network. The trial is led by a team of world leaders in MPE, IPC and PD care with an outstanding track record of delivering practice-changing trials in MPE.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $119,973
Supported: In the name of Gilmac (WA) Pty Ltd


Project title: Improving breast cancer immunotherapy by softening tumour tissue structure
Lead researcher: Dr Yu Suk Choi
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Even though the initial screening for breast cancer (palpation) involves the detection of differences in tissue density and stiffness, we have not applied tissue biomechanics to develop treatments. The interactions between cells and their microenvironments are especially important in diseases characterised by dramatic changes in tissue stiffness such as breast cancer. Breast tumour tissue is 4 to 5 times stiffer than normal breast tissue and the increased tissue stiffness is associated with enhanced metastsis. Various studies have attempted to replicate the biomechanical micro-environment of healthy and disease states to better understand the impact of tissue stiffness on cancer cell behaviour. However, most studies are conducted using 2D platforms with uniform stiffness across tissue that does not change over time. This is in striking contrast to the in vivo environment, where cells are surrounded by the extracellular matrix that is unique to a given patient, distributed in a highly hetergenerous 3D architecture and stiffening over time with disease progression. We propose to develop a hydrogle platform that will mimic the tissue in order to study cancer cell behaviour over time in environments of varying stiffness to determine if cancer cells grow more quickly or become more invasive in a stiffer microenvironment. We will also screen immune cells’ behaviours in a 3D microenvironment with healthy and cancerous breast tissue stiffness. Once we understand the role of tissue stiffness in cancer cells and immune cells, we will develop a softening hydrogel to test tissue softening as a therapy option to enhance immunotherapy.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $119,995
Supported: In the names of Mavis Sands Bequest, Omar Elaskaloani and Fiona Pixley

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 2023 grant receipients.

Project title: Using blood to predict survival in uveal (eye) melanoma
Lead researcher: Dr Aaron Beasley
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description: Uveal Melanoma (UM) is a cancer that effects the eye. Despite control of the disease within the eye, spread to other organs occurs in about half of patients. Once this spread is detected, only 1 in 10 patients will be alive two years later. This risk can be predicted using genetic features of UM, the cancer in the eye, but this relies on a piece of the cancer taken from inside the eye. This only occurs in about 30% of patients, for a variety of reasons such as risk of bleeding or seeding cancer cells in other parts of the eye. Thus, a minimally invasive blood test using circulating tumour DNA, a genetic marker of the tumour, might enable risk prediction without risk to the eye. This will enable more patients to know their risk of cancer spread, and prevent either over or under screening, depending on the risk. This will both improve outcomes for patients and reduce financial burden on the health system.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $35,000
Supported: In the name of Friends of Cancer Council WA


Project title: Studying the development of origins of high-risk leukaemia
Lead researcher: Dr Sung Kai Chiu
Institution: Curtin University – Telethon Kids Institute
Project description: An aggressive and often deadly type of cancer is KMT2A-rearranged acute lymphoblastic leukemia (KMT2Ar-ALL). It is most commonly seen in infants (<1 year of age) where it comprises up to 80% of cases, but it is also seen in children and adults. Over the past two decades, a limited number of clinical trials for infants with KMT2Ar-ALL have not led to an improvement in survival. Overall, approximately 50-60% of patients will relapse and die from this leukemia and it remains a significant area of need to further research on behalf of the families and the community.
Studies of leukemia samples suggest infant KMT2Ar-ALL express unique genes not expressed in older age groups. This is believed to be caused by infant blood stem cells which divide and grow much more rapidly. Further study into this area, as well as the field of KMT2Ar-ALL overall has been limited by the absence of suitable mouse model. Over the last three years, our laboratory has developed the world’s first KMT2Ar-ALL mouse model. This offers a unique opportunity to study the effects of blood stem cells on leukaemia development and identify novel drug targets to improve the treatment of this aggressive leukaemia in infants, children and adults.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $35,000
Supported: In the names of Estate of Jean Balston, Frank & Sheila Granger and Barry Markey


Project title: Investigating how chemotherapy shapes tumour-immune cell interaction in neuroblastoma
Lead researcher: Dr Linda Wijaya
Institution: The University of Western Australia – Telethon Kids Institute
Project description:  Neuroblastoma is a devasting and complex cancer in children under five years old. The average age of diagnosis is just 1 -2 years old, and children with high-risk neuroblastoma have a 50% chance of survival. Treatment for neuroblastoma consists of long, intensive, and toxic chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, and unfortunately only 40% of tumours respond to treatment, and among these 20% will relapse.
Immunotherapy has revolutionised treatment for many cancers but has had limited success in neuroblastoma. A low antigen signal in neuroblastoma tumours makes it difficult for the immune system to recognise the cancer cells. Some chemotherapy drugs have been shown to interact with tumours in a way that enhances the anti-tumour immune response. Combined chemo-immunotherapies are being explored in adult cancers. However, this option has not been explored in neuroblastoma, and successful integration of combined therapy requires understanding how chemotherapy affects tumour-immune cell interactions in neuroblastoma with the goal to find new immunotherapy strategies that can synergise with current chemotherapy treatments.
Using cutting-edge immunostaining and imaging technology, we will stain and visualise different immune cell types in tumour tissues from before and after chemotherapy treatment. We will identify the changes in immune cell types and states and predict immune cell interactions with tumour cells by their locations. We will also stain the tissues with markers of anti-tumour immune response. Using this combined information we can also identify the immunotherapy strategies that are most likely to be effective and synergise with current standard-of-care chemotherapy for more successful treatment.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $35,000
Supported: In the name of Mason Investments (WA) Pty Ltd


Our Research Fellowships fund outstanding biomedical and health researchers working in the field of cancer so they can undertake research of major importance. They provide salary support for up to five years with the aim of advancing the quality and impact of cancer research in WA and promoting collaboration and partnerships, locally, nationally and internationally.

Project title: A research plan for testing education and support programs for people diagnosed with either brain or head and neck cancer and their carers
Lead researcher: A/Prof Georgia Halkett
Institution: Curtin University
Project description: Being diagnosed with brain or head and neck cancer is distressing as it is often life threatening has a large impact on people physically and/or mentally. Hence, it is essential that education and support programs are developed and tested to reduce distress and unmet needs for people diagnosed with these cancers and their carers.
Two programs have been developed:

  1. RT Prepare program: This program focuses on preparing people for radiotherapy. Little research has been conducted in this area. This team’s work in preparing people diagnosed with breast cancer for radiotherapy is recognised internationally; however, this program needs to be refined for people with other cancers. Receiving radiotherapy for brain cancer or head and neck cancer may cause distress due to the head mask they must wear to stop them moving and side effects they might experience. People receiving radiotherapy for head and neck cancer are at risk of severe skin reactions, dry mouth, oral discomfort, mouth ulcers, infections, difficulty chewing and swallowing, impaired taste and extreme weight loss. People receiving radiotherapy for brain cancer may fear side effects such as headaches, hair loss, nausea, extreme tiredness, hearing loss, skin changes, speech difficulties and seizures. Education and support provided by the radiotherapy team before treatment is likely to reduce their anxiety and help them manage side effects.
    Research methods for this program will include interviews, development and testing of the education packages and a large scale clinical trial. Main outcomes will include anxiety and distress, concerns and knowledge about radiotherapy and how prepared they feel for treatment.
  2. Carer’s Education and Support Program: This program focuses on improving carer’s confidence to look after their loved one after a cancer diagnosis and reducing their level of distress. This research focuses on carers of patients diagnosed with brain cancer or head and neck cancer because these groups would benefit most from extra support. If carers are unable to support their loved one, it is likely that the person with cancer may need additional emergency room visits or hospital admissions. During the program a nurse conducts a telephone assessment, visits the carer at home, provides an individualised resource manual and regular telephone follow-up for 12 months. This program is currently being tested in a randomised controlled trial with carers of people with brain cancer. It needs to be adapted and tested for carers of people with head and neck cancer.

Research into these two programs is essential to improve the education and support provided to individuals and their carers following a diagnosis with either brain cancer or head and neck cancer. The team will also determine the cost of providing these programs and the impact they have on overall healthcare costs.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $52,709 for 2023 ($460,000 total, for 2017-2023)
Supported: In the names of Robert Lally and Jil Tilly


Project title: Testing the ability of new medicines to improve radiation therapy and increase survival rates for the childhood brain cancer medulloblastoma
Lead researcher: Dr Raelene Endersby
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Brain cancers differ from other types of cancers. Radiation is necessary for treatment but causes significant additional problems – especially for children who have to live the rest of their lives with the consequences of radiation – like reduced brain function. Most lab-based research on childhood cancers still use adult-cancer based techniques. My team have developed more accurate, childhood cancer models. Our early data shows that two existing cancer drugs might work with lower doses of radiation to decrease side-effects.

By combining these existing medicines with low-dose radiation therapy, I can determine if

  1. this more effectively kills brain cancer than radiation alone (which is the standard treatment today AND
  2. If this reduces the side effects of radiation, since the dose is lower. If successful I will move this finding into clinical trials quickly, as this will be the first time a new treatment for brain cancer has been identified in more than 30 years.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: 120,000 in 2023 ($480,000 total, 2022-2025)
In the names of Mavis Sands Bequest, Omar Elaskaloani and Fiona Pixley


Project title: Targeting cancer with vaccines – focusing the immune system on cancer mutations.
Lead researcher: Professor Jenette Creaney
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: This research will benefit people with difficult to treat cancers such as lung cancer and the asbestos-induced cancer, mesothelioma. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death in Western Australia with over 1000 cases diagnosed in the state each year. WA has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. These cancers have very poor outcomes, with over 80% of people with lung cancer and 95% of people with mesothelioma dying within 5 years of diagnosis. Modern cancer treatments use the body’s own immune system to eliminate tumours. These treatments are highly successful in some but not the majority of people. My research focuses on developing personalised cancer vaccines to increase the number of people with lung cancer and mesothelioma to respond to treatment. These vaccines will target genetic changes that occur specifically in a person’s own tumour. I will study the natural immune response to cancer mutations in people with cancer and use animal models to perfect vaccine development. At present, I am testing the safety and practicality of this personalised vaccine approach in a small clinical trial in people living with lung cancer in WA. The funding from this grant will allow me to continue the vital laboratory and animal-based research underpinning the current clinical trial and also help toward expanding the next phase of clinical trials in which a greater number of participants are able to receive this type of personalised therapy.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000 in 2023 ($480,000 total, 2023 – 2026)
Supported:  In the name of Estate of Ida Gordon



Project title: Towards improving prevention and treatments for relapsed childhood cancers
Lead researcher: Dr Sébastien Malinge
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Acute leukaemia is the most common type of cancer seen in children (>200 cases per year in Australia). Although treatments and outcomes have improved remarkably, leukaemia remains the second highest cause of death by cancer in children. Furthermore, many children still suffer from treatment toxicity or develop relapse. These clinical features are exacerbated in children with Down Syndrome (DS).
This study aims to identify the treatment-resistant cells that are responsible for relapse, and discover new methods to destroy them. My team will use animal models to reproduce the standard therapy used in clinics and add two promising drugs to destroy these cells. We will also look for agents that improve the efficacy of these two drugs, and extend to non-DS children with leukaemia that have a similar molecular makeup to DS children. Outcomes from this study are to develop new treatments for clinicians to improve the quality of care and long-term survival of West Australian children with leukaemia.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000 in 2023 ($480,000 total, 2020-2023)
Supported: In the names of Estate of Shirley Ellis and Leah Jane Cohen


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 2023 ($225,000 total for 2021 – 2023)
Supported: In the name Estate of Graham King


Project title: Can exercise reduce the symptom burden and improve tumour blood flow to increase treatment efficacy
Recipient: Dr Oliver Schumacher
Description: Radiotherapy is one of the main treatment options for prostate cancer. However, the biology of prostate tumours is complex, with many of the blood vessels surrounding the tumours being abnormally developed, limiting the ability to deliver oxygen to some parts of the tumour. This lack of oxygen is seen as a major limiting factor in the effectiveness of radiotherapy, with low levels of oxygen making cancer cells more resistant to radiotherapy. Moreover, this reduced oxygenation of tumours is also assocated with the growth and spread of cancers, ultimately contributing to treatment resistance, cancer progression and mortality. In addition, some patients may experience side effects from treatment that negatively affect their daily activities and quality of life.

The purpose of this project is to investigate the effects of exercise on blood flow and oxygenation in tumours of men with prostate cancer undergoing radiotherapy. I will first examine if a single exrcise session can improve tumour blood flow and oxygenation. In addition, I will examine long-term effects of exercise training over the course of radiotherapy on tumour blood flow and oxygenation as well as whether exercise can reduce treatment-related side effects such as bladder and bowel symptoms.

The impact of these results, if proven effective, are enormous. Reducing urinary side effects addresses a major issue for prostate cancer patients. Furthermore, by demonstrating the effects of exercise on tumour blood flow and oxygenation, I hope to highlight exercise as a low-cost therapy that can enhance the effectiveness of cancer treatment.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $37,500 in 2023 ($225,000 total for 2023 – 2026)
In the name of Margaret Kerman Charitable Trust


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 2023 ($225,000 total for 2022 – 2024)
Supported: In the name of Jull Tilly

PhD Top Up Scholarships are awarded to applicants who have an outstanding academic record and the potential to pursue full-time PhD studies in cancer-related research.

Project title: Making the unseen, seen: Turning on immune genes in breast cancer to improve treatment success
Lead researcher: Mr Eric Alves
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Breast cancer (BC) is the most common cancer in Australia, with approximately 20,000 diagnoses and 3,000 deaths in 2020 alone. Most BC patients are diagnosed early enough to be successfully treated with surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy. However, 20-30% of patients initially diagnosed with early-stage BC will eventually develop a metastatic disease (when the cancer spreads to other parts of the body). In these cases, chemotherapy is the only treatment option, as these drug types can travel through the body and kill the cancer cells that have spread beyond the original location.

Due to the high rates of relapse and drug resistance seen in chemotherapy, targeted cancer immunotherapies have been developed as alternative treatment options. These therapies boost a patient’s immune system, to help the immune cells find and kill cancer cells. However, though these treatments have worked well in some hard-to-treat cancers (e.g. melanoma), their use in BC has not been as successful. One major reason for this is that BC itself is able to “turn-off” important genes which help the immune system to “see” the cancer. In doing so, the cancer cells can stay hidden and survive.

This project aims to use state-of-the-art gene editing technology to design and test a new target treatment that can reverse this process and “turn-on” the important genes that BC has previously “turned-off”. If successful, the treatment designed as part of this project will help to make BCs more visible to the immune system. Therefore, the patient’s immune system will better be able to “see” the cancer and work in combination with other currently available therapies to improve their rates of success. Furthermore, given other cancer types also “turn-off” the same genes, this treatment is likely to benefit other cancers as well (e.g. pancreatic cancer).

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $6,000 for 2023 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2021-2023)
Supported: In the name of Momentum for Australia Ltd


Project title: Supercharging natural killer immune cells to eliminate leukaemia.
Lead researcher: Ms Samantha Barnes
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: While survival rates have vastly improved for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, some patients still have poor outcomes with a less than 50% chance of survival. Therapies which harness the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer have shown success for some, however many patients are unable to have their own cells harvested. This means there is an urgent need for an alternative approach. Our solution is to use the cancer killing immune cell, the natural killer (NK) cell, which can be collected from healthy donors, prepared long before required and given to multiple patients. Importantly, we have observed that some NK cells are better at killing leukaemia than others. We will use cutting-edge genetic technologies to understand why these cells perform better, and we will use this information to further enhance and refine the cancer killing abilities of these cells. Our goal is to create a readily available NK cell therapy to ensure all patients can receive this life-saving treatment.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2023 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2022-2024)
Supported: In the name of Lions Cancer Institute Karen and Joshua Chinnery PhD Top Up Scholarship


Project title: Better together: how to use radiotherapy to increase the success of immunotherapies in mesothelioma cancer
Lead researcher: Miss Faith Chang
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Mesothelioma is a rare, fatal cancer caused by asbestos that has very few treatments. Though immunotherapies (treaments which help the immune system fight cancer) have recently shown success in mesothelioma, they don’t work for everybody. Researchers are searching for ways to increase the success of immunotherapy.

Radiotherapy is given to more than half of all cancer patients and can even cure some cancers. We know that radiotherapy kills cancer cells and stops them multiplying. However, radiotherapy can also boost immune responses to cancer. Combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy could greastly improve treatment responses.This research aims to find the best way to combine radiotherapy and immunotherapy. We have already found a particular combination that can cure 100% of tumours under the skin in mice. Further information may enable radio-immunotherapy be taken into human. This project studies how radiotherapy changes immune cells to help them destroy tumour cells. Testing will also be undertaken on how well radio-immunotherapy treats cancer that has spread. We will also attempt to treat tumours surrounding the lung, mimcking where mesothelioma occurs in humans.This project will use mesothelioma mouse models and a highly precise X-ray machine for irradiations with the goal of providing evidence needed to start clinical testing of radio-immunotherapy for mesothelioma patients. This research will ultimately result in better treatment options and survival for many cancers.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2023 (Total $36,000 for 2023 – 2025)
Supported: In the name of Pat Leighton


Project title: Using artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy of radiotherapy treatments
Lead researcher: Mr Branimir Rusanov
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Radiotherapy works by killing cancerous cells using high energy X-rays. To ensure the absolute safety of the procedure, radiation oncologists create a radiotherapy “plan” which describes how much radiation dose should be delivered to the tumour, and the dose limits to surrounding healthy organs. This plan is made at the start of treatment, however, typical treatment can last up to 8 weeks. During this time, the patient can lose weight, their organs can randomly move around and change shape, and the tumour can increase or decrease in size. Therefore, the initial plan may no longer be valid a few weeks into treatment meaning that healthy organs can get damaged, or the tumour may not received the prescribed dose. To address this issue, adaptive radiotherapy has been proposed, which uses a conebeam CT image of a patient just before treatment to modify the X-ray beams such that healthy tissues are not damaged whilst the tumour is better targeted. Several hurdles prevent adaptive radiotherapy, such as: bad cone-beam CT image quality, time
consuming organ outlining, and time consuming creation of a new X-ray beam plan. Artificial intelligence has become very powerful, and we hypothesize that these shortcomings can be overcome using the latest cutting edge AI algorithms to (1) improve cone-beam CT image quality; (2) automatically outline organs; (3) predict the optimal Xray beams. Hence, by modifying the plan just before treatment, patients with head & neck, pelvic or lung cancers can receive vastly more accurate doses to their tumours while ensuring
healthy organs are not damaged. Patients will benefit by simultaneously reducing their chance of cancer recurrence and radiotherapy related side-effects.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2023 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2022-2024)
Supported: In the names of Friends of Cancer Council WA and Cynthia Noonan


Project title: Development of novel therapeutic strategy for Ewing sarcoma
Lead researcher: Mrs Shahama Taifour
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Ewing sarcoma (EWS) is a rare tumour that occurs in bones and less commonly in soft tissues, where children and adolescents are mostly affected. Unfortunately, the outcomes for returned or spread tumour is low. Hence, developing a new therapeutic strategy for better management of this tumour is needed. In this disease, a specific piece of chromosome 11 called the FLI1 gene is moved to chromosome 22 to be next to the EWSR1 gene. This chromosomal change forms a new fused gene (EWSR1-FLI1) responsible for EWS development.

This project will utilize a new approach by employing a specific tool called Epi-CRISPR to switch off the new gene to inhibit the growth of EWS cells. We will also develop a new carrier for Epi-CRISPR to facilitate its clinical application. To achieve these goals, several lab assays and animal models will be used. This project is expected to improve the life expectancy of EWS patients and to make a paradigm shift in the scope of Epi-CRISPR applications in clinical trials that are not exclusive to EWS but extend to other types of cancer

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2023 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2022-2024)
Supported: In the names of Edward & Patricia Usher Cancer Research Assistance Fund and Hill Family Charitable Fund.


Project title: Using artificial intelligence combined with medical image data to improve glioblastoma patient outcomes
Lead researcher: Mr Nathaniel Barry
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Glioma is a cancer of the brain and glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of glioma. Glioblastoma is difficult to treat and has poor survival rates with treatment involving surgery to remove as much tumour as possible, followed by chemotherapy at the same time (and also after) radiotherapy. Doctors use medical images to inform treatment decisions, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Doctors visually inspect these images and make a judgement on whether current treatment is effective or not. These assessments inform on predicted patient survival and guide further treatment decisions.

During a patient’s treatment, accurately inspecting these images becomes challenging and potentially misleading e.g., treatment effects (such as inflammation) may appear to look like tumour recurrence on a MRI, which can cause a premature halting of treatment. To be confident, doctors often must implement a “wait and see” approach for conclusive evidence which, with an aggressive cancer like glioblastoma, can be detrimental to a patient’s outcome.

Doctors don’t use the digital data available within medical images, which are made up of hundreds to thousands of numbers. Advancements in computing has opened an additional avenue of research where we believe that artificial intelligence can process this data to inform on a glioblastoma patient’s predicted survival or tumour recurrence. This can act as an additional set of tools for doctors so that they can confidently pivot patient treatment earlier and with more accuracy, which is expected to improve survival.

These approaches will be applied to positron emission tomography (PET) combined with a radioactive tracer with demonstrated beneficial properties in glioma imaging called O-(2[18F]-fluorethyl)-L-tyrosine (FET). In parallel, we will also investigate the use of an automated artificial intelligence pipeline applied to a relatively new MRI sequence using amide proton transfer (APT), which has also shown promising predictive power for patient survival.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 for 2023 (Up to $30,000 in total for 2022-2024)
Supported: In the names of Lions Cancer Institute Karen and Joshua Chinnery PhD Top Up Scholarship and Hill Family Charitable Fund.


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: Finding unique B cells amongst different types of liver cancer
Lead researcher: Mr Matthew Kuan
Institution: Curtin University
Project description: Liver cancer is a rare type of cancer, only being 1.9% of all new cancer cases diagnosed in
2021. However, while it’s found very rarely, the chance of surviving after 5 years of diagnosis is a measly 20%. Further, rates of liver cancer have been on a steap upward trend since the 1980s, representing an ever increasing problem for the individuals, families and the health system at large. Part of how the body prevents the spread and growth of cancer of the liver is through the immune system, which is predominantly comprised of T cells and B cells. While T cells have been thoroughly explored in the literature and their role in the development of liver cancer, B cells have been neglected. We intend on identifying the different types of B cells, using data analysis, that are present in liver cancers caused by viral, metabolic, and alcoholic sources which will help understand this cancer’s development, and can provide new ways of targetting and treating liver cancer in the future.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000
Supported: In the name of Graham Millsteed


The Cancer Research Trust Enabling Grants were established in 2009 to promote and support collaborative cancer research in WA and make a globally-significant contribution to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer.

Award: Enabling advanced single cell cancer genomics in Western Australia
Recipient: Prof Alistair Forrest
Description: Tumours contain many different normal cell types that interact with the cancer cells. Although some cell types are associated with good or poor prognosis, relatively little is known about all the cell types that exist in a tumour. The team will use new ‘single cell technologies’ that look at the cell’s DNA to study hundreds of tumour samples from many different cancer types donated by patients across Perth. This will provide new insights into what cell types are present in each tumour and determine the genes switched on and off in thousands of cells from each patient’s tumour.

This information will be used to study four priority areas: What cell types are present in each tumour? ; Which drugs might kill these cancer cells, what fraction of cancer cells are likely to be resistant and why are some cancers resistant?; What changes between the cancer cells in a primary site when they move to a metastatic site?; and can new biomarkers be identified for early cancer detection and can cancer cells be detected in the blood?

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $50,000 in 2022 (total $450,000 for 2018-2026)
Supported: In the names of Jill Tilly, James Nugent, RE and FJ Ledger Charitable Trust and Bethwyn Miller.


The objective of the Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour Initiative is to direct funds to advance the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal stromal cancer.

Project title: Harnessing the immune system to fight Gastro Intestinal Stromal Tumours
Lead researcher: Prof Ruth Ganss
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) arise from digestive organs, for instance the stomach and intestine. If the cancer is discovered early, surgical removal may lead to a cure, but some cancers re-grow even after surgery. Advanced GIST have already spread to distant organs and in most cases are treated with a drug called Imatinib or Gleevec. Most advanced GIST patients respond well to this drug which slows cancer growth. However, 90% of patients eventually become non-responsive to the drug due to drug resistance, enabling the cancer to progress and spread.

New treatments are urgently needed to overcome drug resistance. One of the most exciting clinical development in recent years is the advent of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. This treatment is already used for some advanced cancers such as melanoma, often with dramatic results. However, so far GIST has not been considered for immunotherapy. New research published in 2020 indicates that some GIST patients (approximately 50%) spontaneously display lymph node like structures which promote immune cell trafficking and indicate better overall survival.

This research proposal will build on these findings using our expertise in the field and incorporate a unique animal model to test how these lymph nodes can be induced to optimize immunotherapy. For this aim human cancers will be grown in a mouse which harbours a human immune system; this is currently the best model system for studying immunotherapy effects.

We will also collect clinical GIST cancer specimen and examine the numbers and characteristics of spontaneous lymph nodes by developing a new detection system. We expect that this will be useful to identify those GIST patients who will benefit from immunotherapy.

Overall, the goal of the project is to provide GIST cancer patients with new immune based treatment options by combining already available drugs, to overcome resistance and prolong survival.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $196,265 in 2023 (total $978,950 for 2018-2024)
Supported: In the name of Sandra O’Keefe

The objective of the Prostate Cancer Initiative is to direct funds to advance the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

Project title: Can a telehealth delivered exercise program with nutritional advice be as effective as a supervised clinic-based exercise and nutrition program for weight loss and health enhancement in overweight and obese men with prostate cancer?
Lead researcher: Professor Daniel Galvão
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description: Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in Australia and the second most common cause of cancer-related death. Men who are overweight/obese are at increased risk for treatment-related side-effects and increased risk of the cancer to spread. A common treatment undertaken by men with prostate cancer is hormone therapy, however, it leads to an increase in weight due to gains in fat mass while muscle mass is lost. Therefore, treatments to improve weight loss are important, especially for those who have been exposed to hormone therapy. To date, strategies to combat this weight gain have been ineffective.

The team recently showed that a clinic-based targeted and supervised exercise and nutrition program was effective in reducing fat mass by ~3kg in these men. The problem is that not all men would have access to such a program, such as those in regional, rural and remote settings, or have the financial ability to pay. Telehealth has emerged as a viable way to deliver health care. The aim of the project is to determine if the program delivered via telehealth is as effective as the supervised clinic-based program for fat weight loss, reducing cardiovascular disease risk, and enhancing physical and mental health in overweight/obese men with prostate cancer.

The study will recruit 104 overweight/obese men with prostate cancer and current or past usage of hormones and randomise them to a telehealth delivered program or the supervised clinic-based program for 6 months and then follow them for an additional 6 months. The clinic-based exercise program, which comprises resistance and aerobic training, with nutritional advice will be the same as that in the pilot study and will be adapted to be delivered by telehealth using the latest technologies such as video chat with remote monitoring.

If the telehealth delivered program is effective, then it can be rolled-out at a low cost to patients, regardless of their financial position or where they live.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $157,999 in 2023 ($472,739 total for 2021-2023)
Supported: In the name of Alan Tuthill