A/Prof Paul Ekert

Group Leader, Translational Tumour Biology

Translational Tumour Biology

Research goals

- To understand gene changes in cancer cells and how they can be targeted for improved treatments
- To use genomics to better understand the basic mechanisms that underlie childhood cancers

Associate Professor Paul Ekert joined the Institute in January 2019 to head its new Translational Tumour Biology group, having worked for many years in Melbourne, first as a paediatrician at Royal Children's Hospital, and then as a research leader at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI).

Paul is well known for his ground-breaking research on the genes that control cell death (apoptosis). His work was instrumental in the development of new drugs called BCL2 inhibitors, which are now approved and will, he believes, become some of the most important cancer drugs seen for many years.

More recently, he has focused on applying the science of genomics to understanding what makes a cell cancerous, and what in that cell might be targeted therapeutically. ‘I love the way the new science of genomics opens up the lid on cancer cells. We can now look in on them in a way we’ve never been able to before,’ he says.

Having initially worked on the Zero Childhood Cancer personalised medicine program as a collaborator at MCRI, Paul made the decision to move to Children’s Cancer Institute to increase his involvement with the program. ‘I have an opportunity here to fully participate in what I think is the most important research endeavour in the science of childhood cancer that we have ever seen in this country’, he explains.

‘When we analyse a child’s sample and find a genetic change that could really alter the outcome for that child if a particular treatment is applied… that’s as good as it gets. The thought of being able to do that more often is incredibly exciting.’

Paul is also developing a new research program to apply some of the novel findings of Zero Childhood Cancer to better understand the biology of tumours. ‘We want to understand how the changes we are seeing in tumour samples relate to the fundamental processes that typify cancer cells. We believe very strongly that a better understanding of how gene changes cause cancer will lead us to more effective and significantly less toxic therapies.’