Second annual Galli Colloquium

Due to Victoria’s COVID-19 restrictions, the colloquium – like many events in 2020 – went online. But distance couldn’t detract from the transformative research made possible by The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Medical Research Trust.

The annual colloquium for The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Medical Research Trust, held on Wednesday 14 October, looked a little different this year. While the pandemic may have stopped us from coming together in person, the spirit of innovation and collaboration was alive and well via Zoom.

The colloquium puts a spotlight on research projects currently receiving support from The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Medical Research Trust and celebrates their progress. Established in 2017 by Pamela Galli AO, the Trust is uniquely designed to empower collaborative research between four institutions – the University of Melbourne, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, WEHI and the Royal Children’s Hospital – in the areas of developmental disorders and cancer.

The 2020 colloquium was hosted by partner institution WEHI. Master of Ceremonies Professor Doug Hilton AO (Director of the WEHI and The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Chair in Medical Biology) emphasised the significance of the Trust’s focus on collaboration – ensuring that work does not happen in silos, but instead harnesses the best that each institution has to offer. He also made particular note of Pamela’s inspirational faith in him and the other two Galli Chairs – Professor Grant McArthur and Professor David Amor.

I don’t think it matters whether you’re the Director of WEHI or an undergraduate student starting out on their journey in research … knowing there’s someone in the community who believes in you is something that makes it easier to get out of bed each day – especially during a lockdown like this.

Each of the research programs has now appointed all of their teams and it was a wonderful display of research capability with all team members joining the virtual colloquium and having the opportunity to portray their thanks to Mrs Galli.

Three prominent projects are currently being funded by the Trust and here is a snapshot of their colloquium presentations.

Discovery of new treatments for brain development disorders

This program of research is headed up by Professor Hilton (The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Chair in Medical Biology) and is a collaboration between the WEHI and Royal Children’s Hospital. It aims to improve the quality of life for children and their families through identifying new treatments for patients with genetically caused brain developmental disorders.

Professor Marnie Blewitt presented on an aspect of their research focusing on new treatments for brain development disorders including Prader-Willi Syndrome and Schaaf-Yang Syndrome. The team is investigating how they can use chemicals to ‘switch off’ the SMCHD1 gene, which plays a role in causing these disorders.

In a world first, they have now successfully identified a SMCHD1-inhibiting chemical series. In the next year, they hope to screen 300,000 more chemicals that could be used in treatments and test their current processes within patient-derived neurons as well as in vivo in mice.

Improving outcomes and quality of life for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities

This program of research is led by Professor David Amor (The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Chair in Developmental Medicine). It aims to generate new evidence about the causes of neurodevelopmental disabilities and determine whether new and existing therapies are effective in improving outcomes and quality of life for these children and their families.

Dr Jordan Wright, Galli Research Fellow, provided an update on a new program which will focus on the functional side of neurodevelopmental conditions resulting in intellectual disability.

Dr Wright and his team are focusing on epigenetics – the activation or deactivation of certain genes – and how they impact brain development and intellectual disability. Over the next year, the team will generate neurons from patient cells, introduce developmental disorder models in established human cell lines, and examine behavioural aspects using mouse models. Using these three approaches, the team hopes to better understand what a disordered neuron looks like and use this knowledge to begin developing therapies.

Next generation cancer discoveries initiative

Led by Professor Grant McArthur (The Lorenzo Galli Chair in Melanoma and Skin Cancers), this team is using state-of-the-art genomics and computational research methods to understand how cancer cells evolve, adapt and influence response to therapy at the single cell level.

Professor Alicia Oshlak, Galli Senior Research Fellow presented on the program’s progress explaining the role of genomic mutations in causing cancerous cells and how mutations can offer insights into the evolution of a tumour, likely prognosis and treatment options.

The team’s current focus is on analysing large datasets and developing computational analysis methods to understand how cancers develop and progress, and how they can be treated.

As Chair of the Advisory Group for the Trust, Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences again thanked Mrs Galli for her remarkable contribution to medical research in the precinct. Professor Kapur also commended the Chairs, presenters and teams for their ingenuity, adaptability and passion, demonstrated by the continued progress even while office doors are closed, and teams are prevented from coming together. These qualities are the ones that drive us to continue to uncover the mysteries of human cells, overcome disease and disaster and make meaningful change to the lives of many.

Click here to find out more about the work of The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Medical Research Trust.