2014 Funding Recipients

Dr Anna Ugalde

Victorian Cancer Agency Early Career Seed Grant

Deakin University

Identifying predictors of functioning in people with advanced cancer and their caregivers in rural and regional communities: A prospective, longitudinal study

Informal caregivers provide extensive support to people with advanced cancer, especially in rural or regional areas, but at a cost to their own physical and psychological wellbeing. This study aims to identify caregivers and patients at risk of poorer outcomes, such as depression or poor quality of life. Once high-risk caregivers and patients are identified, a model to provide them with additional support will be trialled.


Dr Cristina Gamell-Fulla

2014 Richard Pratt Fellowship in Prostate Cancer Research

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Novel therapeutic approach for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer constitutes a major health issue worldwide. Our investigations have revealed a novel role for E6AP in prostate cancer. We have discovered that high E6AP expression is associated with poor prognosis of prostate cancer patients. Importantly we can show that lowering E6AP expression inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells and sensitises them to radiation, a major treatment for localised disease. In this grant proposal, we describe experiments to define the mechanisms by which E6AP promotes prostate cancer. We have developed new E6AP inhibitors and we will test the efficacy of targeting E6AP, alone or in combination with radiation, as a novel therapy for prostate cancer.


Dr Hieu Nim

2014 Richard Pratt Fellowship in Prostate Cancer Research

Monash University

Whole-genome bioinformatics analysis of intraductal carcinoma of the prostate in men with familial prostate cancer

Computers have become so powerful that they can assist us in accurately predicting the outcome of traditional medical experiments. My research seeks to employ data-driven bioinformatics to reliably stratify between low-risk and aggressive tumours. My collaborators recently reported that intraductal carcinoma of the prostate in patients with BRCA2 mutation have aggressive tumours and poor survival, necessitating comprehensive genetic studies. Utilising these data, the proposed research will apply bioinformatics techniques to search for the missing genetic links between a breast cancer mutation and poor prognosis in prostate cancer.


Mr John Hedigan

2014 Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre Supportive Care Research PhD Scholarship

University of Melbourne

Positive and Negative Emotional Responses to Patient Preferred Popular Songs in Adult Cancer Care

Many cancer patients experience psychological distress during their cancer journey. Music therapists commonly work with patients' emotional needs, though there is little clinical research into the subject. This project aims to explore participant reported effects of emotional responses to patient preferred popular songs across multiple contexts within the hospital setting and will generate a theory that describes patient responses to music therapy. Data will be collected via qualitative interviews and analysed using the principles of Grounded Theory.


Dr Arun Azad

Monash Partners Academic Health Science Centre Clinical Research Fellowship

Monash University

Characterising the effects of docetaxel chemotherapy on castration-sensitive prostate cancer

In the recent CHAARTED clinical trial, docetaxel profoundly increased survival of men with metastatic castration-sensitive prostate cancer (mCSPC). By growing prostate cancer tissue obtained from individual patients in mice, we will examine how docetaxel works in CSPC and whether it targets a small population of cells that remain alive after castration. We will also study these castration-resistant cells in order to find ways of making docetaxel more effective in mCSPC, paving the way for future clinical trials and better patient outcomes.


Associate Professor Hui Gan

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Clinical Research Fellowship

Austin Health / Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute

Clinical Development and Translational Research of Antibody Drug Conjugates for Glioblastoma and other EGFR-expressing Tumours 

ABT-414 is an antibody drug conjugate wherein an antibody allows delivery of anti-cancer drug directly into cancer cells. In 2014, after encouraging early activity in glioblastoma, it received accelerated development status by US and European authorities. Our role in developing ABT-414 and our participation in early trials also allowed us to develop unique cancer models from trial patient tissue. This Fellowship will allow Associate Professor Gan to continue developing ABT-414, specifically (a) developing brain tumour trials for rapid implementation, (b) understanding how to overcome resistance and (c) develop ABT-414 and related drugs in other cancers.


Dr Jeanne Tie

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Clinical Research Fellowship

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Meidcal Research

Circulating Tumour DNA as Liquid Biopsy in Colorectal Cancer: Detecting Residual Cancer and Mutation Profiling to Guide Clinical Management

Tests that improve our ability to personalise treatment for patients with bowel cancer are urgently needed. The proposed research builds on our previous studies of a cancer blood test suggesting this accurately predicts cancer recurrence after potentially curative surgery and that cancer-specific mutations can be detected in the blood of majority of patients with advanced bowel cancer. In this study we will collect blood samples from patients with early stage and advanced bowel cancer to validate this test as a marker of residual cancer and confirm that blood-based mutation testing could be used as an alternative to tissue-based testing.


Dr Carmel Pezaro

Monash Partners Academic Health Science Centre Early Career Seed Grant

Monash University

Identification of Prostate Cancer-Related Circulating DNA in Men with Localised Prostate Cancer

Men with cancers that are confined to the prostate are treated with local therapies such as surgery or radiotherapy, or with close observation, based on the risk that the cancer will spread and cause further problems. Current tools are imperfect at predicting outcome, so many men undergo aggressive treatments unnecessarily. We aim to improve the identification of men with disease that has the potential to behave aggressively. This will enable more appropriate and timely use of intensive local treatments, while other men can be better selected for observation.


Dr Kelly Walton

Monash Partners Academic Health Science Centre Early Career Seed Grant

MIMR-PHI Institute of Medical Research

Targeting activin in the treatment of cancer-cachexia

In advanced cancers, the majority of patients suffer a severe wasting syndrome, termed cachexia, in which their muscle and fat is broken down. Remarkably, 25% of these patients die as a direct consequence of these wasting effects. We have recently identified a tumour-derived protein, activin, as an important mediator of cachexia. To combat activin-mediated wasting, we have now developed a specific and potent activin therapeutic. This study will assess the ability of our therapeutic to treat both wasting and cancer(s) in animal models of cancer-cachexia. 


Dr Lynette Chee

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Early Career Seed Grant

Melbourne Health

Clinical Response Biomarker Discovery in Myelodysplastic Sydromes

This research proposal aims to discover biomarkers for response to current treatments in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). MDS is a blood cancer with an increasing incidence in the elderly and is characterised by low blood counts which can transform to an acute leukaemia. Current therapies with DNA methyltransferase inhibitors and immunomodulatory drugs have improved survival but disease recurrence is common likely due to to persistent abnormal stem cells resistant to treatment. This study will focus on understanding why this occurs and determining immunological, genetic and microRNA biomarkers of treatment response and clinical outcomes.


Dr Anna Collins

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Early Career Seed Grant

St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne

Defining evidence-based transition points to palliative care for people with advanced cancer and their family caregivers

People with cancer experience increasing symptoms and concerns as their disease progresses. Palliative care services can improve their quality of life, yet are often accessed late in the illness course, meaning missed opportunities for symptom management and care planning. This project aims to improve the equity of access to palliative care for people with cancer and their families. Statewide population data and a consumer-informed agenda will define optimal transition points whereby engagement with palliative care should occur. Nationally relevant guidelines for timely integration of palliative care will be developed and disseminated. 


Dr Niall Corcoran

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Early Career Seed Grant

University of Melbourne

Investigation of the mechanisms of treatment resistance in prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is critically dependent upon male sex hormones (androgens), which bind to and activate a specific receptor (the androgen receptor) within the cancer cell to drive growth and progression. For advanced disease, removal of these hormones by medical castration is the backbone of treatment, but eventually tumours become resistant, even to the new, very potent castrating agents that have recently been approved. This study aims to compare cancer samples from patients before and after treatment with these agents to identify why some tumours resolve, whereas others persist. 


Dr Lisa Guccione

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Early Career Seed Grant

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Defining the supportive care needs and psychological morbidity of patients with functioning versus Non-Functioning Neuroendocrine tumours: Phase 1 trial of a Nurse-Led phone-based intervention

Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are rare cancers deriving from neuroendocrine cells and either express hormones (Functioning) or are non-expressive (Non-functioning). Functioning NETs induce severe systemic problems; Non-functioning NETs are typically indolent and slow-growing. In spite of very different symptomology, differences in experiences, needs and the psychological morbidity of these subgroups of NET patients are not understood. To our knowledge this is the first study to elucidate differences between patients with functioning and non-functioning NETs and use findings to design a phone-based intervention targeting their different needs.


Dr Michelle Peate

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Early Career Seed Grant

University of Melbourne

Building an online infertility prediction tool for young women with breast cancer

Many women are diagnosed with breast cancer before they have started or completed their families. Breast cancer treatment commonly reduces fertility and fertility outcomes may influence treatment decisions. Obtaining information about how fertility will be affected by treatment is a priority for young women. We aim to summarise current understanding of fertility predictors and the impact of breast cancer treatment on fertility into an online fertility calculator targeted at young women with breast cancer. This tool will be freely available to women in order to inform decision making around breast cancer treatments.


Dr Joseph Vissers

Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Early Career Seed Grant

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

A novel personalised medicine approach for the treatment of mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of internal organs and can be caused by asbestos. It is a devastating disease; most patients die within a year of diagnosis, due to a lack of effective treatment options. Recently, identification of the genetic changes that cause mesothelioma has revealed that most cases are due to increased activity of the YAP oncogene. This proposal will use this knowledge to identify new mesothelioma treatments, and testing the efficacy of YAP inhibition in cutting-edge mesothelioma models. The outcomes of my work will be directly relevant to human mesothelioma patients.