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Cancer Institute NSW awards Sydney $2.2M in research funding

3 December 2021
Four early and mid-career Fellows announced
Our researchers will develop new treatments for liver cancer, effective therapies for melanoma patients resistant to immunotherapy, work to improve metastatic spine procedures, and understand why men are more likely to die from cancer than women.

Cancer Institute NSW (CINSW) has announced four University of Sydney researchers have been awarded $2.2M in funding to continue the fight against cancer and improve the wellbeing and outcomes of patients.

The CINSW Research Fellowships are highly competitive awards aimed at supporting the career advancement of early and mid-career researchers engaged in innovative approaches to cancer research that will achieve improved outcomes for society.

Professor Robyn Ward, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health, offered her congratulations to the successful fellows.

Congratulations to our new CI Fellows. These researchers are tackling cancer from a number of different perspectives – from the basic sciences to strategies to improve the quality of life of people with cancer.
Professor Robyn Ward, Dean of Faculty of Medicine and Health

The grants will enable each academic to build on their research capability and become leaders of their own team. Learn more about our CINSW fellows below.

Career Development Fellowship

Dr Jessamy Tiffen

Dr Jessamy Tiffen.

Dr Jessamy Tiffen - $600,000

Why are men more likely to die from cancer compared to women? A study of X-linked epigenetic regulators in melanoma.

Men are more than twice as likely to die from cancer compared to women.

"Although several reasons have been proposed to explain this observation, such as behavioural or hormonal differences, the puzzle remains unsolved," said Dr Jessamy Tiffen.

Dr Tiffen's project will focus on an "alternative theory: that differences in genes located on the sex chromosomes may explain differences in the ability to combat cancer between males and females."

She will lead a team to investigate the genes located on the Xchromosome to explain the phenomenon and develop new treatments to improve the survival outcomes of male cancer patients.

Early Career Fellowships

Dr Emma Zhang.


Dr Emma Zhang.

Dr Emma Zhang - $600,000

Understanding a unique enzyme family and a new therapeutic approach for primary liver cancer.

Statistics tell us liver cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, with fewer than 1 in 5 patients surviving 5 years after diagnosis.

Dr Emma Zhang and her team will develop a new, more effective therapy that boosts the body’s immune system to attack liver tumours.

"Human liver tumours make significantly more of the specialised enzymes of the Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4 (DPP4) family. Patients with high expression of these enzymes have shorter survival," said Dr Zhang.

Dr Zhang's work will demonstrate the effectiveness of targeting these enzymes with a new inhibitor drug as a synergistic approach with current immunotherapy.

"The project will demonstrate the anticancer efficacy of this new combination therapy. We'll develop our understanding of how it boosts the immune system to kills liver cancer cells."

Dr Inês da Silva.

Dr Inês da Silva.

Dr Inês da Silva- $600,000

Matching optimal drug therapy to overcome organ-specific resistance to standard immunotherapy in melanoma.

Immunotherapy - a treatment that stimulates immune cells to fight cancer - is one of the main treatments for melanoma.

But many patients resistant to immunotherapy see the disease spread to their liver, brain or bone.

Dr Inês da Silva will lead a team to study the effect of these sites of disease on the immune response, to identify improved treatments for these patients.

"Drivers of response are well understood, but there is virtually nothing known about mechanisms of resistance, which is critical to understand in order to design novel drug therapies and to improve cancer patients’ outcomes," she said.

Dr da Silva's group will match the most effective drug combinations for resistant patients, analysing their clinical profile and melanoma-tissue immune and genetic profile.

"This work is of major significance to the outcome of patients with cancer and the design of novel drug therapeutic strategies for all cancer patients."

Dr Tess Reynolds.

Dr Tess Reynolds.

Dr Tess Reynolds - $415,000

Improving quality of life for metastatic spine patients.

Up to 50% of all cancer patients experience bone metastasis in the spine - when cancer cells spread from their original site to the bones that make up our spine.

Patients experience severe pain, susceptibility to bone breaks, and potential loss of limb function from spinal cord compression. One of the most effective treatments is surgery but current procedures come with risks.

Over the next 3 years, Dr Tess Renyolds will work to "de-risk" and improve surgical techniques, partnering with Siemens Healthcare, the world’s largest medical device company, to translate her revolutionary imaging techniques for clinical use.

"I have developed advanced imaging techniques that provide direct in-room surgical verification of procedures to stabilise the spine and relieve pain, reducing the chances of severe complications and the need for secondary
surgeries," she said.

NSW orthopaedic and international neurosurgeons have said the new
imaging techniques Dr Renyolds has developed will change the way spine surgery is conducted, positively impacting the lives of many cancer patients.

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