Monash BDI scientists shine in Victorian Cancer Agency grants

Pictured clockwise from top left: Monash BDI’s VCA Fellowship recipients: Dr Faridi, Dr Papa, A/Prof Rosenbluh and Dr Vivian

Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) researchers have scooped nearly half of the Victorian Cancer Agency’s (VCA) 2020 Mid-Career Research Fellowships (Biomedical Stream). This funding will further progress research into paediatric brain tumour vaccines; combination therapies for breast cancer; bone marrow transplantation treatments for leukemia; and new approaches to tackle gastric cancer drug resistance.

The four Monash BDI recipients - Dr Pouya Faridi, Dr Antonella Papa, Dr Julian Vivian and  Associate Professor Joseph Rosenbluh - were among 21 recipients in the VCA’s recently announced funding round who will share in more than $10 million in research grants to work on ground-breaking discoveries. They were among nine recipients in the mid-career (Biomedical Stream) category.

Head of Monash BDI’s Cancer Program, Professor Roger Daly, in congratulating the scientists, said the grants highlighted the strength and depth of cancer research at the institute.

“These funding announcements underscore the ground-breaking work of the researchers to date and provide much-needed support at a critical time in their careers. The awards demonstrate the breadth of our cancer research – and the calibre of our talented researchers – here at the BDI,” Professor Daly said.

Dr Faridi will use his funding to progress research into the development of precision vaccines for devastating paediatric brain tumours, with a focus on Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), the deadliest type. Having developed new technologies and discovered new classes of vaccine targets, he will identify, validate and evaluate vaccine targets to develop a preclinical data package to include in future DIPG immunotherapy clinical studies.

Despite significant advances in breast cancer treatment, resistance to therapies and disease recurrence remain a major cause of breast cancer related mortality for women and men worldwide. Dr Papa will further her investigations into optimising combination therapies for this cancer using the funding. Her studies have identified novel factors regulated by the tumour suppressor PTEN and have the potential to inform better clinical treatments for breast cancer associated with PTEN loss.

Dr Papa said she was beyond happy to hear that she had been granted the highly competitive four-year fellowship in a climate in which success rates for grants is low. The fellowship supports her salary and provides funds for reagents and other costs associated with the project.

“It was great news at the end of a very difficult year,” Dr Papa said. “I felt grateful and lucky that I had received it."

Dr Vivian’s research aims to improve bone marrow transplantation treatment of leukaemias. Currently exploiting Killer-cell receptors – which are central to immune surveillance – is hampered in the clinic by the lack of understanding of the extreme diversity of receptor and ligand pairings. Dr Vivian has recently provided a framework to decipher this receptor/ligand code and will apply this to bone marrow transplantation for the treatment of leukaemia. The studies will underpin the development of new strategies for donor/recipient matching and for the prophylaxis and treatment of the reactivation of the cytomegalovirus in transplantation.

Gastric cancer is a leading cause of mortality in Australia with only a limited number of treatment options. Associate Professor Rosenbluh is tackling the problem of gastric cancer drug resistance. Profiling 17 gastric cancer tumours and their adjacent normal tissue, his team identified a new type of transcripts that are uniquely expressed in gastric cancer and not normal cells. He will use a high-throughput approach to identify which of these transcripts induce drug resistance with a view to developing new approaches to combat the resistance.

This funding rounding takes the total investment by the Victorian Cancer Agency to more than $250 million since it was established by the Victorian Government in 2006.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.

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