NHMRC support for exciting new children’s cancer research
December 8, 2016
The search for improved treatments for children’s cancers, including innovative research into a currently incurable brain cancer, will take a big step forward as the NHMRC announced funding totalling $4.5M for Children’s Cancer Institute.
The Institute has achieved a 40% funding rate for NHMRC Project Grants, more than double the national average for the sector of 15.2%.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is the nation’s peak medical research funding agency and on Saturday announced $483M funding as 601 new grants across four funding schemes, including $123M of funding for cancer research.
Children’s Cancer Institute’s Executive Director Professor Michelle Haber AM, herself a recipient of a new Project Grant in the current round, said the Institute’s funding result is an endorsement of its research standing.
“We are very excited to have achieved this outcome. The new NHMRC Project Grants will be led by early, mid and senior career researchers at the Institute, and represent the spectrum of translational research, from basic, through to preclinical research, involving testing of potential new treatments,” she said.
NHMRC Project Grants received this year by Children’s Cancer Institute will support research into leukaemic stem cell formation, deregulation of cell-division in neuroblastoma and combining DFMO with other polyamine-depleting agents to explore therapeutic effects for brain cancer and neuroblastoma.
Among the successful early career scientists, junior postdoctoral researcher Dr Han Shen received an NHMRC New Investigator Grant for leading-edge research into the highly aggressive brain cancer Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Dr Shen, who is less than two years post-PhD, says his grant will aid in the search for treatments for DIPG, a fatal cancer in children. Radiotherapy is currently the only treatment and merely slows tumour growth. Dr Shen said almost all DIPG patients die within a year of diagnosis.
“The need for a DIPG cure is urgent. My project will explore whether we can kill more DIPG cells by targeting their glucose metabolism.
“Glucose provides the energy essential for tumours to grow. I aim to see if cutting off cancer cells’ energy supply, through treating them with dichloroacetate and potentially other selected drugs, makes them more sensitive to radiation,” he said.
“We’re in a unique position to do this research because we’re the first in Australia, and among the world’s first, to grow DIPG cells in the lab. We can test the effects of targeting glucose metabolism on six subtypes of DIPG we’ve cultured to see whether it boosts radiotherapy’s cell-killing effects and, if so, how.
“At the end of the project, we’ll have done the preclinical work needed to go straight into setting up a clinical trial. That could make a big difference to children diagnosed with DIPG in the future,” he said.
In another success, one of Australia’s most distinguished children’s cancer researchers also benefited from NHMRC support this year. Research leader Professor Maria Kavallaris achieved accelerated promotion by NHMRC to the role of Principal Research Fellow, a highly prestigious role, which is increasingly hard to obtain. This acknowledges her global standing in children’s cancer and nanotechnology research.
Professor Maria Kavallaris leads the Institute’s Tumour Biology and Targeting Program and is Director of the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSW.
“For me, the NHMRC Principal Research Fellowship is providing support to advance my research in innovative cancer therapeutics,” she said.
Professor Kavallaris’s research contributions are internationally regarded and include identifying the mechanisms of action and resistance to anticancer drugs, discovering new protein interactions in cancer and developing less toxic cancer therapies using nanotechnology.
Professor Kavallaris has been with Children’s Cancer Institute from the day the first laboratories opened in 1984. She has gone from being the most junior of lab staff to, in 2016, achieving this coveted NHMRC Fellowship.
Among her many career highlights, Professor Kavallaris was awarded a Knowledge Nation 100 Award and The Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Award in 2015. Professor Kavallaris was also recently made a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS).
The full list of successful 2016 NHMRC Project Grants and Fellowships is available on the NHMRC website.
About Children’s Cancer Institute
Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. Forty years on, our vision remains unchanged – to save the lives of all children with cancer and to eliminate their suffering. The Institute has grown to now employ more than 220 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence.
Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in our hospitals as quickly as possible. These new treatments are specifically targeting childhood cancers, so we can develop safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations that will minimise side-effects and ultimately give children with cancer the best chance of a cure with the highest possible quality of life.
We are currently leading the establishment of the Zero Childhood Cancer national child cancer personalised medicine program for children with the most aggressive cancers, in partnership with the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. This program will revolutionise the way treatment decisions are made, with the aim of improving survivorship for those children at highest risk of treatment failure from their disease.