To understand the biology and aggressive behaviour of neuroblastoma and gliomas
To develop therapeutic strategies to specifically target tumour cells in these cancers
To develop imaging protocols to monitor drug responses
Dr Orazio Vittorio joined Children’s Cancer Institute in 2013. His research contributes to the Tumour Biology and Targeting Program and fits within the Institute’s Nanomedicine theme, which is focused on the use of nanoparticles to package and deliver targeted therapies to cancer cells.
Focusing on the childhood cancers neuroblastoma and gliomas (brain cancer), Orazio is investigating the role of metals, such as copper, in the growth of these tumours. His aim is to develop drugs that are able to specifically target cellular pathways involving these metals, thereby halting tumour progression.
‘Nowadays, even though we have great treatment drugs, they aren’t designed to specifically kill cancer cells,’ he explains. ‘We need to target cancer cells specifically so we create less problems for healthy cells in the body.’
Orazio was one of the first scientists to discover the important role of copper in cancer cells. He has shown that removing copper from tumours results in reduced energy production and blood vessel formation, and has recently discovered that copper is involved in multidrug resistance – one of the major clinical problems faced in the treatment of children with cancer. He has also developed a new method using a nuclear medicine imaging technique called PET to monitor the level of copper in tumours.
In the coming years, he hopes to see his research contributing to new cancer treatments and new protocols for monitoring tumour growth and drug response.
A cancer survivor himself, Orazio understands how important it is that research leads to improved treatments. He feels an obligation as a scientist to help people with cancer, made all the more acute since becoming a father. ‘When you become a parent, you realise how important your children are. When I think of families with children with cancer and what they are going through, it’s even more important to find a way to help.’
His accomplishments were recognised in 2019 by being appointed Team Leader here at the Institute after a highly competitive international selection process.
Orazio is a researcher in the Australian Centre for Nanomedicine and conjoint lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW Australia.