Experts in computational biology and oesophageal cancer garner awards for rising cancer research stars

A promising new clinical tool and research on targeting a genetic mutation common in oesophageal cancer have been recognised in the 2016 Picchi Awards For Excellence in Cancer Research.

Sponsored by the Picchi Brothers Foundation, the awards recognise and support the top PhD students within the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre partners, by recognising their originality, innovation and contribution to cancer research.

The joint winners for 2016 are:
* David Liu, a PhD student and trainee surgeon at the University of Melbourne and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; and
* Daniel Cameron, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

The chair of the Picchi Brothers Foundation, Joseph Lukaitis, said the prize is awarded on the basis of the researcher’s productivity, for research that addresses a pivotal area of cancer control, and potential research impact.

“We want to inspire and encourage the next generation of leaders in cancer research,” Mr Lukaitis said.

Daniel Cameron’s research focuses on developing new ways to analyse the huge amounts of data produced by modern genomics sequencing, leading to accurate identification of the genome rearrangements present in many cancers.

“These under-studied mutations are the driving force behind some cancer sub-types,” Mr Cameron said. “Knowing which mutations are driving cancer development in each patient means we will be able to tailor treatments to the individual.”

His mutation detection software, GRIDSS, has been used at Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute in a clinical trial into early detection of cancer relapse, and is now being adopted by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for use in routine clinical analysis. The software also allows researchers to model changes in the genetic make-up of tumour cells.

David Liu’s PhD research focuses on novel therapeutic strategies to treat oesophageal cancer. Rates of this cancer are on the rise, especially in men. The five-year survival rate is around 13% because sufferers are usually diagnosed later in life.

Dr Liu’s results demonstrate the potent efficacy of a new drug which boosts the effects of chemotherapy and kills cancer cells that harbour p53 gene mutations — the most common mutation in cancer.

Dr Liu’s work forms the basis of a Phase II multi-centre clinical trial for patients with late-stage oesophageal cancer, which is set to commence in late 2016.

Dr Liu’s research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, including top-tier publications in gastroenterology. He is now looking to collaborate with a group in Europe to increase his research output and learn new surgical techniques.

Mr Cameron and Dr Liu will each receive a $10,000 scholarship to enable them to present their research findings at important international scientific meetings in 2016.

The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is a powerful partnership of ten leading Victorian organisations including The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, The University of Melbourne, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, The Royal Women’s Hospital, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Western Health, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Austin Health and The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute – all working together to control and cure cancer. The VCCC is proud to support the next generation of top cancer researchers.

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Elisabeth Lopez

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