UNSW researchers receive more than $5.9m in Cancer Institute NSW grants

Professor John Pimanda receives the new Translational Program Grant for his team’s work with acute myeloid leukaemia.
Yolande Hutchinson | UNSW Newsroom

Five UNSW researchers have received over $5.9 million in grants that will support cancer research, as part of the latest $11.75 million grant announcement from the Cancer Institute NSW.

Professor John Pimanda has been awarded the new $3.75 million Translational Program Grant for his team’s work with acute myeloid leukaemia.

Over $2 million was awarded to UNSW researchers to support emerging careers and exciting breakthroughs through the Cancer Institute’s Early Career and Career Development Fellowships.

Scientia Professor Vlado Perkovic, Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health, congratulated the academics on receiving grants.

“The Cancer Institute grants will enable our researchers to help many people impacted by cancer in Australia and around the world. Funding is essential to ensure that research findings from the laboratory are delivered to people impacted by cancer.

“Congratulations to John Pimanda for receiving the Translational Program Grant to further his research on acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). There are currently limited treatment options available for those with AML and this grant is very good news for them.”

Professor John Pimanda

Translational Program Grant

Prof. Pimanda’s new five-year, $3.75 million Translational Program Grant will offer hope to Australians with AML who are unable to receive life-saving treatment due to old age or ill health. 

“AML is a devastating blood disorder with an incredibly poor life expectancy in older people, as the risks associated with treatment far outweigh the benefits,” Prof. Pimanda said.

“We aim to identify and test new drug combinations in the laboratory which can then be offered to patients who are unfit for aggressive chemotherapy.

“Without treatment, older Australians will typically succumb to the disease within two to eight months from diagnosis.”

Dr Amelia Parker

Career Development Fellowship

Dr Parker from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and UNSW Medicine & Health received $551,446 in funding to drive new and more effective treatments for people with lung cancer.

“This fellowship will enable me to identify which patients are at high risk of developing aggressive lung cancer, and what the most effective treatment for them may be,” Dr Parker said.

Her research vision is to develop a precision medicine framework to improve lung cancer treatment by applying innovative technologies to understand the interactions within the tumour ecosystem that promote tumour progression and to identify novel ways to target these mechanisms.

This proposal will be the foundation for a personalised medicine framework in lung cancer that identifies the best treatment for each individual patient, ultimately improving patient survival.

Dr Sean Porazinski

Career Development Fellowship

Dr Porazinski from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and UNSW Medicine & Health received $560,620 for a project that will target the cellular ecosystem of pancreatic cancer using clinically-safe agents.

“We have analysed patient tumour genomes and identified at least 13 pancreatic cancer subtypes that may respond to personalised therapies.

“Excitingly, where tested all have shown significantly improved responses to targeted therapies,” Dr Porazinski said.

Here we will test a new combination treatment strategy involving repurposing a clinically used, well-tolerated antifungal agent to improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy in a subset of pancreatic cancers.

The project aims to develop more personalised treatment plans for patients based on the biology of each individual patient tumour, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

Dr Mahdi Zeraati

Early Career Fellowship

Dr Zeraati from the School of Biotech & Biomolecular Science at UNSW Science received $570,637 for a project that will examine the role of i-Motif DNA structures in cancer.

“We recently made the novel observation that the i-Motif structure (a four-stranded DNA structure formed in cytosine-rich sequences) forms prevalently in the human genome,” Dr Zeraati said.

The goal of this project is to determine the role of i-Motifs in the molecular etiology of cancer.

Understanding the role of i-Motifs will broaden the ability to interpret the impact of some genetic mutations in cancer development and open opportunities for new approaches to detect, diagnose and treat cancer.

Dr Holly Holliday

Early Career Fellowship

Dr Holliday from the Children’s Cancer Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health received $565,523 to develop an effective treatment to improve survival rates for patients with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an aggressive cancer that mostly affects primary school-aged children.

The main driver mutation in DIPG occurs in a histone gene (H3K27M). However, to date, there are no drugs that can directly target this mutant histone. Importantly, the mutation functions together with other molecules and one of these ‘partner-in-crime’ molecules is called FACT.

“We have discovered that a drug that blocks FACT, called CBL0137, is very effective at killing DIPG tumour cells. Therefore, a better understanding of how FACT and the mutant histone function in DIPG cells could lead to more effective treatments,” Dr Holliday said.

“My research program is innovative, as it is looking at a new way to target the histone mutation, and well positioned to make a translational impact, as my mentor, Professor Ziegler, is leading an international clinical trial of CBL0137 in children with brain cancer.”