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Click the headings below to find out more about the projects we have been able to fund in 2024, 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 Early Career Cancer Researcher of the Year
Recipient: TBC
Description: TBC
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $10,000 in 2023-2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this award
Award: Cancer Council WA Cancer Researcher of the Year
Recipient: TBC
Description: TBC
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $20,000 in 2023-2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this award

 

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 2024 Cancer Council WA Research Project Grants.

Project title: A new drug to enhance immune response to cancer.
Lead researcher: Associate Professor Matthew Piggott
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that boosts the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. It has shown tremendous results, but only in some cancers and in some patients. Every year over 1000 people with cancer in Western Australia receive immunotherapy treatment. While it can be lifesaving when it works, approximately 70-80% of patients will not experience any benefit from immunotherapy.

Current immunotherapy drugs are antibodies, which are expensive to manufacture. These antibodies need to be administered by intravenous injections, which are invasive for patients and financially burden the health system, as they need to be administered by a health professional.

We aim to develop an oral drug that boosts the immune response against cancer, improving outcomes for cancer patients in Western Australia and globally. Our team has identified a specific drug target (a protein) in immune cells that impedes the body’s immune response against cancer cells. Inhibiting this protein improves the outcomes of immunotherapy treatment in laboratory models. We have discovered drug-like inhibitors of this protein and aim to demonstrate proof of concept and develop these further towards clinically useful drugs that are optimally effective with minimised side effects.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000 in 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: New therapies to stop cancer coming back after surgery.
Lead researcher: Dr Ben Wylie
Institution: Telethon Kids Institute, The University of Western Australia
Project description: In several cancers, including sarcoma, cancer coming back after surgery remains a major problem. Often these cancers come back more aggressive and resistant to anti-cancer drugs. For young sarcoma patients, we lack effective treatments for these recurrent cancers and one in three kids still die from their sarcoma.

To provide hope to cancer patients, our project will develop a safer and more effective way to treat patients who are having surgery to remove their cancer, which stops the cancer from ever coming back. To do this we have made a special gel, which can be loaded with anti-cancer drugs, and applied in the wound when the surgeon is removing a tumour. The gel is naturally broken down by the body over time, which causes the drug to be slowly released. This means patients can go home sooner and get on with their lives while still receiving their treatment.

In this project we are developing a new class of drugs, using the same technology as the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. These drugs are messengers that instruct the body to make signals which activate the immune system to attack cancer cells. While vaccines can be injected in your arm, it can be more difficult and less effective to inject something into a patient’s tumour. We believe that our gel-based surgical application will be the perfect way to delivery this new kind of drug. Now we need to find the right messengers to turn on the immune system and optimise the gels to deliver them, so we can stop sarcoma coming back after surgery.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $92,700 in 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: Using existing copper-binding drugs to enhance therapy for mesothelioma.
Lead researcher: Dr Kofi Stevens
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Western Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma per capita. On average, a patient diagnosed with mesothelioma has a life expectancy of only 12-18 months. While therapies that boost anti-cancer immune responses have shown promise, most patients do not benefit from immunotherapy. We urgently need new and more effective treatments.

Our research reveals that metals like copper accumulate in mesothelioma, fuelling tumour growth and aiding in evading the immune system. By using drugs that bind to copper, we aim to reduce its availability to cancer cells, consequently boosting the immune response against the cancer.

To succeed, we need to test these copper-binding drugs in combination with current treatments to investigate how copper helps cancers evade the immune system. We will employ cutting edge techniques to analyse the amount and location of copper, how copper impacts genes and proteins within tumours.

These copper-binding drugs are already approved for use in other diseases, are low in toxicity, and are cost-effective. This means they could swiftly become a part of treatment options for patients. While this work is aimed at improving treatments for mesothelioma, copper binding drugs could be used to treat many different cancer types because copper accumulation is common in many cancers.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000 in 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: Developing novel biomarkers for breast cancer prevention using genomic sequencing and machine learning.
Lead researcher: Dr Zhaoyu Li
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: The incidence of breast cancer has kept rising over the past 50 years and now affects 1 in 7 women in their lifetime. Although rates are also increasing, treatments can have a significant impact on quality of life and the more aggressive subtypes are often identified at a later stage with a poorer prognosis. This indicates a lack of efficient biomarkers and approaches for cancer prevention. Particularly, there is a lack of efficient biomarkers for predicting cancer risk in the general public and detecting cancer at the earliest stage for preventing primary occurrence and improving the outcomes.

We propose to develop novel biomarkers in blood by measuring a group of signals, called epigenetic histone modifications; these signals bridge environmental risks with gene expression in the tumour cells and could be used to detect environmental risk factors contributing to breast cancer development or progression. These signals could be used for risk prediction and early detection of breast cancer.

We will measure these signals using genomic sequencing technology and advanced computational technology, machine learning. Using these signals, we could predict women who are under the risk of developing breast cancer and detect breast cancer in women as early as possible. The outcomes of our study will support the reduction of breast cancer incidence, increase survival rates, and reduce treatment burden for both patients and the healthcare system. In the long run, such novel biomarkers in combination with sufficient approaches for preventing breast cancer would be the ultimate path to end breast cancer.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000 in 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: Using new approaches to improve survival and quality of life following radiation-therapy for deadly childhood brain cancers.
Lead researcher: Clinical Professor Nicholas Gottardo
Institution: Telethon Kids Institute, The University of Western Australia
Project description: Brain cancer kills more Australian children than any other disease. Medulloblastoma (MB) is the most common childhood brain cancer. Aggressive treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation-therapy. Sadly, more than 40% of patients still die. Survivors suffer life-long debilitating side-effects that significantly worsen their quality of life, due mostly to damaging doses of radiation therapy on their growing brains. We aim to increase survival and quality of life by identifying new drugs that improve radiation therapy and simultaneously harness the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer. With this strategy, we aim to facilitate a reduction in the amount of harmful radiation therapy required to cure patients with MB into the future.

Previously, we found drugs that improve how chemotherapy kills cancer cells (called inhibitors of the DNA damage response) and showed they are effective for MB treatment. One such drug, prexasertib, worked so well with chemotherapy that we opened a phase-one MB clinical trial in Australia and USA.

THIS PROJECT builds on our new evidence that these drugs also improve the effectiveness of radiation-therapy while simultaneously stimulating the immune system. To test the treatments as accurately as possible, we developed world-first, “child-like” MB mouse models that have growing brains and developing immune systems. This is instead of using adult mice with fully grown bodies, as are typically used worldwide. We show that these “child-like” mice exhibit important differences in the way the cancers grow and immune systems function. This suggests our results will better reflect the “real-world” and have a better chance of working in the clinic.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000 in 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: Novel targeted treatment for aggressive and drug-resistant breast cancers.
Lead researcher: Dr Edina Wang
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: This proposal focuses on two breast cancer (BC) subtypes: triple-negative (TNBC) and HER2-positive (HER2+). TNBCs cannot be treated with current targeted treatments leaving patients to rely on toxic chemotherapies. While HER2+ patients do have available therapies, these cancers are aggressive, frequently spreading and developing resistance to current treatments.

Our objective is to develop innovative targeted therapies for TNBCs and HER2+ patients. We have discovered a novel protein, called Rab12 which acts as a “protector”, suppressing cancer growth and inhibiting therapy resistance. Unfortunately Rab12 expression is shut-down in these cancers. This proposal seeks to develop state-of-the-art delivery methods to transport Rab12 inside cancer cells, where it can reclaim its “protector” role.

In Aim 1 – we will measure Rab12 in a large collection of BCs tissues with known clinical outcomes. This will help characterise the subset of patients with low Rab12 expression that are most likely to benefit from our new treatment.

In Aim 2 – we will turn on Rab12 expression in TNBC and HER2+ BCs to find out if Rab12 can make other therapies, such as chemo- and anti-HER2 therapy more effective.

In Aim 3 – we will produce a synthetic derivative of Rab12 that can be targeted and delivered through the bloodstream. We will use state-of-the-art chemistry to deliver Rab12 into relevant BC mouse models and assess effects on tumour growth.

This work will produce novel therapeutics for recalcitrant BCs. Beyond BC, this treatment could benefit many other patients, including those with colon and liver cancer.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $120,000 in 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: Exploring gaps in cancer testing and resulting treatments in Aboriginal and remote lung cancer patients.
Lead researcher: Associate Professor Andrew Redfern
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Aboriginal Australians. Once diagnosed, Aboriginal people are twice as likely to die of their lung cancer compared to non-Aboriginal patients. Research to close this gap is desperately needed.

Prompt treatment with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy gives patients the best outcome from lung cancer. Additionally, discovery of immunotherapy has had a profound impact on lung cancer treatment, prolonging survival with a small chance of cure. Also, our knowledge of gene malfunctions that cause cancer has been increasing, some of which can be targeted to treat the cancer. However, immune and targeted treatments can only be used where the cancer has been tested to see if these are suitable therapies.

No-one knows whether Aboriginal or remote patients experience delays with or miss out on conventional therapies. It is also not known whether all receive testing, have differing rates of immune sensitive or targetable cancers or whether those suitable for these treatments receive and complete them. We will be seeking this information  and looking at whether deficiencies in treatment explain the worse survivals for these groups. Where there are missing tests we will carry them out to complete the picture of lung cancer types in these patients. We will also do some new tests, not currently standard in lung cancer, to get a more detailed picture of the mutations that cause Indigenous cancers and the patients immune response to them.

Our expert team then has the experience and connections to plan and deliver better services to address the gaps found.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $119,000 in 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

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 2024 grant receipients.

Project title: How does prostate cancer stage and treatment interact with body composition to impact blood factors influencing cancer survival?
Lead researcher: Dr Jin-Soo Kim
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australia, apart from non-melanoma skin cancers.  Testosterone suppression is highly effective at slowing disease progression, but a severe side-effect is loss of skeletal muscle mass.  The researchers propose to investigate a mechanism by which the body controls the growth of prostate cancer and the interaction with disease stage, treatments and body composition.

Recent studies found that signalling molecules called cytokines suppress prostate cancer cell growth, which may have important implications for the survival of patients.  It has also been established that skeletal muscle is associated with survival of patients with prostate cancer and that muscle is the largest organ influencing cytokine levels.  Despite evidence of the role of skeletal muscle impacting the survival of patients through tumour-suppressive cytokines, translation of this biological knowledge into clinical practice is limited due to a lack of understanding of the differential impact of stage and treatment on muscle mass and cytokine levels. The research team are proposing to evaluate cytokines in the blood and body composition of 90 patients with prostate cancer (30 localised without treament, 30 localised with treatment, and 30 advanced with treatment) and 30 healthy subjects as well as looking at the impact of these cytokines on prostate cancer cell growth. Benefits of this research will include our first understanding of the impact of muscle mass on the anti-cancer cytokine levels across the stages and treatments of prostate cancer.  This will help explain a major biological reason for the survival advantages exhibited by physically active patients and inform more optimal exercise prescription tailored to the patient.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $34,500.00 for 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: Using new ultrasound imaging technologies to measure inflammation and scarring following radiation treatment to improve outcomes for women with breast cancer.
Lead researcher: Dr Helen DeJong
Institution: WA Department of Health
Project description: Side-effects from radiotherapy and breast cancer conserving surgery can be severe, permanent and impact quality of life. The severity varies from person to person, influenced by the duration and degree of inflammation regulating the healing process. Side-effects include fibrosis (tight scarring), persistent breast swelling and chronic pain. Currently, evidenced based treatments are not available to prevent or reduce these side-effects. This proposed study aims to use new ultrasound imaging technologies to develop comprehensive, objective, safe and pain free methods of assessing skin and breast tissue changes during and after radiotherapy. Objective measurement of tissue thickness, stiffness, swelling, collagen density and blood flow provide vital information about a person’s inflammatory response so we can study how it relates to side effects. The outcome of this study is to ensure measurements are consistent and believable. This involves measuring 50 women going through radiotherapy twice, by two different trained imaging specialists. We’ll compare the similarity of their measurements to each other and to other clinical assessments. Once we know we can trust the measurements, we can use this new technology to evaluate side-effects and treatment effectiveness. Ultrasound is safe to use frequently in clinical assessments and just like watching a baby grow inside the mother’s womb, we can monitor tissues changes in response to radiotherapy. Ultimately, we aim to personalise therapy by using the new technology to evaluate each individual’s response to treatments and adapt her/his care plan to maximise her/his healing so every person can live better both during and after cancer.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $34,700 for 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

Project title: Uncovering mechanical origins of breast cancer.
Lead researcher: Dr Rowan Sanderson
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Breast cancer is a common type of cancer that affects many women around the world. It occurs when cells in the breast start growing uncontrollably and form a lump or tumour. One important feature of breast cancer is its stiffness, which can influence how the tumour grows and responds to treatment. To better understand why breast cancer becomes stiff, our research team is using two specialised techniques called optical elastography and spatial transcriptomics. Optical elastography uses light to measure the stiffness of the tumour, while spatial transcriptomics helps us see which genes are active in different parts of the tumour. Our main goal is to uncover the genes and cell types responsible for making breast cancer stiff. By doing this, we hope to learn more about how the cancer spreads and becomes resistant to treatment. Additionally, we will investigate biological targets to assist the delivery of anti-cancer therapeutics. This information could help us find new ways to treat breast cancer and improve the lives of patients. Our research has the potential to lead to groundbreaking discoveries in breast cancer. Understanding how stiffness influences the behaviour of tumours will inform the development and delivery of anti-cancer drugs, leading to more effective therapeutics. Additionally, the findings in this work could help doctors diagnose the disease earlier and choose the best treatment options from each patient from a range of effective and personalised therapies, increasing the chances of a successful outcome for breast cancer patients.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $35,000 for 2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

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: 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: Telethon Kids Institute,

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 2024 ($480,000 total, 2022-2025)
Supported:
CCWA is currently seeking funding for this fellowship

 

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 2024 ($480,000 total, 2023 – 2026)
Supported: In the name of Ida Franziska Gordon

 

Project title: Reducing breast cancer mortality by improving early detection.
Lead researcher: Associate Professor Jennifer Stone
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia. Population breast cancer screening increases early detection which improves treatment options and saves lives. Australia provides free mammographic screening for women aged 40+ however, screening participation is low, with only ~55% of women in the targeted age range (50-74) attending the state-run BreastScreen programs. BreastScreen’s one-size-fits-all approach lacks incorporation of known risk factors to identify women at increased risk and as it stands

~9 cancers go undetected per 10,000 women screened. Despite the success of BreastScreen programs in preventing breast cancer deaths, there is clear potential for improvement. This research program aims to reduce breast cancer mortality in Australia by improving early detection using three approaches: increasing screening participation, co- producing primary care pathways to improve screening, and facilitating consumer-driven research

Specifically, this research aims to:

  1. Evaluate a novel intervention targeting obesity-related barriers to mammographic screening participation within the BreastScreen Western Australia (WA) program via the BreastScreenPlus Project.
  2. Co-design and implement personalised screening pathways for women within primary care, as part of our NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence, MyBRISK, and as part of a Cancer Council WA Collaborative Cancer Grant.
  3. Co-develop an interactive web-based platform that facilitates prioritization and co-production of consumer-driven research projects to improve screening outcomes in Australia This program of research will improve breast cancer screening and save women’s lives. In extensive consultation with stakeholders, our expert teams will deliver highly-translatable outputs that will reduce breast cancer mortality by improving early detection of the disease.
Funding from Cancer Council WA: $96,000 in 2024 ($480,000 Total 2024 – 2028)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this fellowship

 

Project title: Predicting liver cancer before its appearance to improve detection of individuals at high risk.
Recipient: Dr Rodrigo Carlessi
University: Curtin University
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 2024 ($225,000 total for 2021 – 2024)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this fellowship

 

Project title: Can exercise reduce the symptom burden and improve tumour blood flow to increase treatment efficacy.
Recipient: Dr Oliver Schumacher
University: Edith Cowan University
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 associated 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 exercise 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: $75,000 in 2024 ($225,000 total for 2023 – 2026)
Supported:
CCWA is currently seeking funding for this fellowship

 

Project title: Using a gel to release drugs locally after surgery and prevent cancer returning.
Recipient: Dr Ben Wylie
University: Telethon Kids Institute,

The University of Western Australia

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 2024 ($225,000 total for 2022 – 2024)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this fellowship

 

Project title: Supporting cancer outcomes by establishing referral pathways to exercise.
Recipient: Dr Mary Kennedy
University: Edith Cowan University
Description: Exercise is important medicine for people with cancer. Every person diagnosed should be referred to a specialised cancer exercise professional to benefit from this important medicine.

Unfortunately, research shows referrals only happen for fewer than 13% of people. This low number is unacceptable.

My research aims to increase the number of people who are referred to appropriate exercise services during cancer treatment. There are three phases:

Phase 1: Explore

Explore how cancer doctors and nurses in an organisation refer patients to exercise and what makes referrals hard so we can learn what is and is not working and why.

Explore how people receiving cancer treatment are receiving information about exercise and what they think is and is not useful about that information.

Phase 2. Design

Design a new system to increase the number of people who receive an exercise referral from their cancer care team. The new system will be designed by an advisory group of managers, cancer doctors and nurses, administrative professionals, and people who have received treatment from the organisation.

Phase 3. Evaluate

Evaluate the new system to see if cancer doctors and nurses use it, if it helps people receiving treatment recognise the importance of doing different types of exercise during treatment, and if it helps people participate in exercise during treatment.

The work will be used to develop resources to help guide others to establish an exercise referral process within their cancer care organisations and will increase the number of patients who benefit from exercise during cancer treatment.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $75,000 in 2024 ($225,000 total for 2024 – 2026)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this fellowship

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: 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 (treatments 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 greatly 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. With more information, we may be able to apply radio-immunotherapy to humans. This project studies how radiotherapy changes immune cells to help them destroy tumour cells. We will test how well radio-immunotherapy treats cancer that has spread and attempt to treat tumours surrounding the lung, mimicking 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 2024 (Total $36,000 for 2023 – 2025)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this scholarship
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, for e.g., treatment effects (such as inflammation) may appear to look like tumour recurrence on an MRI, which can cuse 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 addtional 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 investigte 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 2024 (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.
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 2024 (Up to $36,000 in total for 2022-2024)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this scholarship
Project title: Shooting the messenger; targeting exosomes for the detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Lead researcher: Miss Jordan Fyfe
Institution: Curtin University
Project description: Pancreatic cancer (PC) is one of the deadliest cancers, with 90% of people dying within 5 years of diagnosis. PC is usually detected late in disease as the cancer cells grow quickly and can spread to other parts of the body (known as metastasis) before causing symptoms. PC is also very hard to treat and the therapies currently used don’t often work. With the number of people diagnosed with PC on the rise, we urgently need to improve our ways of detecting and treating this fatal disease.

PC cells can communicate with other cells, like immune cells, by sending small bubble-like particles called exosomes. Exosomes are naturally released and carry many different molecules (proteins, lipids, genetic information and other substances) usually found inside cells. When other cells take up exosomes, these molecules are delivered and can change how the cell functions. Our research group recently discovered an important lipid molecule inside exosomes produced only by PC cells. This lipid is known to control normal immune responses but is also involved in various immune disorders, including cancer. In this project, we explore how exosomes transport this lipid to immune cells to stop their tumour-killing functions. We aim to see if blocking this transport can boost immune cells to find and kill cancer cells. We also want to study other materials inside exosomes from PC patients to know if they can be used as a non-invasive way to detect PC. This study will help us understand how PC cells control immune cells and may provide new ways to detect and treat this deadly disease.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,000 in 2024 (Total $36,000 for 2024 – 2026)
Supported: In the names of Peter & Iris Cook Metastasis Research Fund and the Estate of  Victor Lypka

 

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: Using existing copper-binding drugs to enhance treatments and immune responses in the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma.
Lead researcher: Miss Naomi Damstra
Institution: The  University of Western Australia
Project description: Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, with Western Australians having the highest rates of mesothelioma worldwide.  On average, patients diagnosed with mesothelioma have a life expectancy of only 12 – 18 months.

While therapies that increase anti-cancer immune responses have shown promise, most patients do not benefit from immunotherapy.  New treatments are needed to help improve current therapies so they are more effective for all patients.

We have found that metals such as copper accumulate in mesothelioma, and are a major force driving tumour growth and helping the cancers to evade immune responses. Using copper-binding drugs, we aim to reduce the copper available to the cancer, and understand how it improves the anti-cancer immune cells needed to improve treatments.

To succeed, we need to test these copper-binding drugs in combination with current treatments to investigate how copper helps cancers evade the immune system. We plan to use microscopy to look closely at the different immune cells that are found in mesothelioma tumours, and see if altering copper changes the number of these cells.

These copper-binding drugs are approved for use in other diseases, are found to have low toxicity, are cheap, and have the potential to be rapidly adopted for patients.

Understanding how these drugs work to help the immune system may also help other cancer types in the future.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000 in 2023-2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this scholarship
Project title: Identifying a new ovarian cancer-causing gene for diagnosis and treatment.
Lead researcher: Ms Diana Sintschikin
Institution: Edith Cowan University
Project description: Ovarian cancer is uncommon, with about 2,000 new cases every year in Australia; however, the chance of survival is only about 50%, making it one of the most lethal cancers of women. One main reason for this is that women with ovarian cancer often don’t notice the symptoms until the disease is advanced and visit clinics when therapy options are limited.

Researchers worldwide are studying the genes that cause ovarian cancer; however, the knowledge is incomplete. Identifying a gene(s) that has diagnostic and therapeutic value would immensely help improve ovarian cancer patients’ outcomes.

From studying ovarian cancer patient samples, Dr Woo’s research team identified the abnormal presence of a gene named ZNF148 that might drive ovarian cancer formation and aggressive growth. Dr Woo previously found a role for ZNF148 in aggressive breast cancers, however in ovarian cancer, nothing is known about the ZNF148 gene. This project aims to help build a foundation for studying the ZNF148 gene by establishing ovarian cancer cell lines that can be grown in the laboratory. These new cell lines will mimic the abnormal ZNF148 gene activity observed in ovarian cancer patients. This research will measure changes in the rate of cancer cell growth and their spread with respect to the ZNF148 gene activity.

Successful completion of this project will help identify ZNF148 as a new gene that causes the aggressive progression of ovarian cancer and will encourage the development of future therapeutic and diagnostic tools for improving the outcomes of ovarian cancer patients.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000 in 2023-2024
Supported: In the name of Patrica New
Project title: Using a blood test to assess treatment outcome for patients with a bone marrow cancer.
Lead researcher: Miss Felicia Kartika
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Myelofibrosis is an aggressive bone marrow cancer than can ultimately lead to bone marrow failure due to scarring (fibrosis) in the bone marrow. It is relatively rare, but can be highly debilitating with increased infections, bleeding, and lethargy. Patients are at an increased risk of developing acute myeloid leukaemia and have the median overall survival of 3-5 years. The only possibility of a cure is through a bone marrow transplant.

Serial bone marrow examinations are currently used to monitor patients but is an invasive and confronting procedure. We aim to reduce this burden for patients and the healthcare system by using a new blood-based test that we have developed. With this test, we can detect specific changes in the blood of patients diagnosed with myelofibrosis. My aim is to observe if these changes are reversed after a bone marrow transplant.

To do this, I will analyse samples before and after a bone marrow transplant from patients who are enrolled in clinical trials with our collaborators in the USA. The samples have already been collected and shipped to Perth. I anticipate that if the cancer-associated changes return to normal, then the patient has been cured. In contrast, if the abnormalities remain then this indicates that the cancer has persisted and more treatments will be needed. My project will provide an indication that our blood test has the potential to be used as a much less invasive monitoring tool to ease patient burden and improve their care.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000 in 2023-2024
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this scholarship
Project title: Child soft tissue cancers – new treatment preventing cancer coming back.
Lead researcher: Ms Shaani Jayakody
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: Soft tissues refer to the “connecting” tissues of the body – think bones, muscles, fat things that hold you together. Cancers – groups of cells growing without order – of the soft tissues are called sarcomas. Sarcomas often grow as painless lumps in various parts of the body, and can sometimes not be noticed until they have grown to a large size. In adults Sarcomas are rare, but in children they are more common.

Sarcomas are considered solid tumours, meaning they can be removed by surgery as a main treatment.

Our research aims to make a treatment that stops the cancer from coming back after surgery by applying a gel that contains molecules to help your body fight any remaining cancer cells in the area. These molecules are a type of messenger that your body already produces called mRNA.

The mRNA, which can also be found naturally in your body, are needed to make signals that tell your immune system to clean up any cancer cells after the surgery. Our treatment may help strengthen the natural body response by increasing the message to your cells to fight back against the cancer, helping to prevent it from coming back.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000 in 2023-2024
Supported: In the name of the Abbie Basson Sarcoma Foundation
Project title: The impact of T cell state on cancer vaccination.
Lead researcher: Miss Ella Dickie
Institution: The University of Western Australia
Project description: This research will seek to investigate the importance of the state of T cells in cancer immunity and therapy, with a focus on lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer of high concern in Australia, with the reported chance of surviving at least 5 years only 6.8%. T cells are the major effector cells of the body’s response to cancer challenge – when active and working at their best they are referred to as “stem-like” T cells.

The antigen recognising T cells often become “exhausted” as the disease progresses and this is detrimental to patient health and treatment outcomes. This project aims to investigate what the antigens recognised by “stem-like” T cells are, and to determine if by vaccinating patients, we can return “exhausted” T cells to this beneficial, active “stem-like” state. This will be conducted in two steps, first by using a series of molecular techniques to identify the specific antigen recognised by “stem-like” T cells, and then by using an animal model to examine the effect of vaccination on “exhausted” T cells. If this research is successful, the project would look to use any newly identified antigens in current clinical trials, and to also implement vaccination in patient cases where “exhausted” T cells are thought to be a cause of worsening individual heath.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $3,000 in 2023-2024
Supported: In the name of Leah Jane Cohen

 

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
University: The University of Western Australia
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 2024 (total $450,000 for 2018-2026)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant
Award: Western Australia Melanoma Initiative (WAMI): developing novel treatments for immunotherapy-resistant melanoma
Lead researchers: Professor Jonas Nilsson

Professor Elin Gray

University: Harry Perkins Institute

Edith Cowan University

Description: Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer with an increasing incidence rate worldwide. Australia currently has the highest incidence of melanoma, which accounts for an estimated annual healthcare cost burden of $201 million1. In recent years, advancements in our understanding of the genetics and immunology of melanoma have led to the development of novel molecular targeted and immune-based therapies for a subset of patients. Unfortunately, these treatments are often associated with debilitating and persistent side-effects. Moreover, around 50% of patients will not derive clinical benefit and succumb to the disease.

The Western Australia Melanoma Initiative (WAMI) is a research collaborative comprising basic and clinical researchers from WA, as well as their national and international collaborators. The clinical needs of our consumer representatives with lived experience of melanoma drives WAMI research agenda and the focus of this grant application. Our project aims to improve the outcomes of patients not benefiting from current therapies. WAMI will build upon current areas of excellence in melanoma research in WA, focusing on consolidating existing biobanks and developing an analytical pipeline to provide detailed molecular profiling for translational clinical studies.

WAMI’s overarching themes are: (i) implement adoptive cell therapy with tumour infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) in WA and (ii) use advanced animal models, fundamental research and gene therapeutics to improve TIL and other cell therapies. Notably, TIL therapy is an effective form of cellular immunotherapy currently unavailable in Australia. The establishment of clinical experience in cell therapy for melanoma, and our innovative platform for improving and delivering additional cell therapies, will improve the lives of patients and enable translation also for patients with other solid tumours.

A special focus of WAMI is to identify which patient is most likely to require TIL therapy. By biobanking tumours and blood before and after immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy and TIL therapy, biomarkers that can help with patient stratification will be made clinically useful.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $12,500 in 2024 (Total $62,500 for 2024 – 2029)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant
Award: Centre for RNA therapeutics in Cancer
Lead researchers: Professor Archa Fox
University: The University of Western Australia
Description: The Australian Centre for RNA Therapeutics in Cancer will combine RNA technology with existing cancer research strengths in WA to translate discoveries into the clinic. We will develop platform approaches, piloted with targets against specific cancers but also adaptable to other cancer subtypes. For example, the knowledge gained from creating mRNA-encoding cytokines to remodel pancreatic tumor microenvironments, can be used to design cytokines for additional solid tumors. We will establish an RNA production facility for research-grade RNA therapeutics in cancer and become a nexus for applying these in cancer treatment. Our deep knowledge base will attract national and international collaborators, venture capital and pharma to partner with our researchers to develop products.

By creating a dedicated centre where RNA innovators work hand in hand with oncologists, consumers and patient advocates to design, synthesise, test and improve pilot RNA products, we will improve cancer outcomes in WA and give local cancer researchers a powerful competitive edge. We also have a niche, being the only proposed centre focusing solely on applying RNA technology for oncology treatments, giving a razor focus on cancer relative to other RNA hubs.

Our multidisciplinary approach brings together diverse researchers from oncologists to cell biologists, chemists and computer scientists. The ACRTC will support multiple WA research groups directly, with potential for new groups to benefit once established. Pilot projects incentivise collaboration as no single group has all the skills needed to produce a new drug – we must work together! In five years, we aim to be well progressed on a translational pipeline for 5 new treatments, as well as discovering innovative approaches and frameworks that can be used by other researchers for solutions for other cancer subtypes. Ultimately our goal is to get new therapies to the clinic to improve outcomes and quality of life for those afflicted by cancer.

Funding from Cancer Council WA: $37,500 in 2024 (Total $187,500 2024 – 2029)
Supported: CCWA is currently seeking funding for this grant

 

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: $158,000 in 2024 (total $978,950 for 2018-2024)
Supported: In the name of the initiative for cancer research into the diagnosis and treatment of Gastro Intestinal Stromal Cancer through the provision of the late Sandra O’Keefe by including a gift in her Will to make this research possible.