Precision Cancer Research and Treatment

World-renowned research to improve patient outcomes and advance the fight against cancer.

About us

Cancer is a leading cause of death in Australia, with almost 50,000 people losing their life to the various types of the disease each year. Our internationally renowned biomedical science researchers are working closely with clinicians to identify novel ways to detect, diagnose, monitor and treat various types of cancers.

By addressing key challenges in the fight against cancer, such as developing biomarkers for early detection and discovering new therapeutic treatments, our researchers are leading the way in improving health outcomes for the 150,000 Australians diagnosed with cancer each year.

Research projects

Restoring adiponectin signalling to prevent prostate cancer progression

Lead Researcher: Dr Jennifer Gunter

Advanced prostate cancer (PCa) is a leading cause of cancer-associated death in Australian men. Currently, anti-androgens offer temporary remission in advanced PCa patients. However, treatment resistance can impede healing, and instead trigger unwanted metabolic side-effects.

We have found alternative potential with adiponectin, a fat-secreted hormone known for its role in insulin sensitisation and metabolism. Its level of functioning changes in men with PCa and within the prostate tumour tissue itself, and it is linked to disease recurrence. We therefore devised a novel therapeutic strategy restoring the adiponectin signalling axis to prevent PCa progression using a novel peptide drug, which significantly inhibited prostate tumour growth and extended survival in mice.

This project aims to determine the impact of our novel adiponectin receptor agonist drug in preclinical models of PCa, contributing  to our industry-partnered development of this novel drug and its future progression to clinical testing.

Development of 3D bioengineered human cell culture models

Lead Researcher: Dr Nathalie Bock

Our research addresses the shortcoming of 2D cell culture models by developing 3D bioengineered human cell culture models which better mimic natural human tissue microenvironments.

Our current focus is on bone metastasis from breast and prostate cancers and we seek to recreate the human bone metastatic niche both in vitro in 3D and in humanised mouse models. Specifically, we use advanced tissue engineering technologies that combine human cells and 3D scaffolding biomaterials, to engineer 3D bone tumour microtissues for the study of the bone tumour microenvironment and to effectively assess current and novel therapies.

Our interdisciplinary research is at the frontiers of bio-inspired materials science, tissue engineering and cancer biology.

Head and neck cancer saliva test

Lead Researcher: Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera

Head and neck cancers are a cluster of cancers that are classified as ‘rare cancers’ because fewer than 6 in 100,000 people get them. They can occur in the mouth, lips, throat, nasopharynx, or windpipe.

If we can detect these cancers at stage one or the early stage, the person has an 80 per cent chance of survival. Unfortunately these cancers are often asymptomatic until it is too late, so we need an easy, quick and affordable way to screen people at risk of developing one of these cancers.

Our research is currently looking at saliva diagnostics for two different risk factors for head and neck cancers – human papilloma virus (HPV) infection which is associated with throat cancer, and another test to assess smokers’ risk of mouth and throat cancer.

Gene regulation signature used to improve detection of prostate cancer

Lead Researcher: Associate Professor Jyotsna Batra

Our researchers discovered a panel of four gene-regulating molecules, microRNAs, which may provide a more specific means of detecting prostate cancer. In an initial cohort of 40 patients with prostate cancer, expression of these miRNAs was measured in patient blood samples taken at diagnosis. These patients were followed up for 10-15 years to determine their disease progression and outcome.

We  found expression of these miRNAs differed according to patient prognosis, and could distinguish between slow-growing cancer versus aggressive metastatic prostate cancer. These initial findings suggest there is potential to guide management of prostate cancer at the point of diagnosis based on expression levels of the miRNA panel.

To validate these findings in a larger population of patients, we are now conducting studies in a larger cohort of prostate cancer patients.

The function of androgens in prostate cancer

Lead Researcher: Professor Colleen Nelson

The primary focus of this research is on the function of androgens in prostate cancer, the molecular, cellular and systemic effect of androgen deprivation therapy and androgen-targeted therapies, and mechanisms underlying progression to treatment-resistant prostate cancer.

Critical insights from this research are derived from large scale transcriptomic analyses from treatment effects and phenotypic changes in prostate cancer progression.

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Future students

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Industry and alumni