$1.7 million boost for Hunter cancer studies

Nov 28 2014

University of Newcastle researchers from the HMRI Cancer Program received a $1.7 million career boost yesterday, with NSW Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research Jillian Skinner announcing the latest round of Cancer Institute NSW fellowship funding.

Three of the four prestigious Career Development Fellowships awarded are Hunter bound. Doctors Nikola Bowden and Chenchen Jiang will receive $600,000 each over three years to fund their work in melanoma, while Dr Pradeep Tanwar has obtained over $500,000 to further his ovarian cancer research.

All are laboratory-based scientists working on innovative ways to address chemotherapy resistance and develop potent and targeted clinical treatments.
Mrs Skinner announced the fellowships at the 2014 Sydney Cancer Conference as part of a $5.5 million total funding package from the Cancer Institute NSW.

“These grants acknowledge the ground-breaking work being done by researchers in NSW, not only in developing new insights into cancer and novel  treatment options, but in translating these discoveries into improvements in care for people diagnosed with cancer across the state,” Mrs Skinner said.

Dr Nikola Bowden is investigating a protein known as XPC that repairs DNA damage from ultraviolet exposure but is deficient in melanoma cells and also impacts treatment resistance. The study aims to develop new combination therapies aimed at increasing XPC expression.

“This fellowship funding comes at a critical time for me, both from a research and a career perspective, and I greatly appreciate the support,” Dr Bowden said. “Over the next three years we can hopefully advance our study to the point of testing more effective and personalised treatments for patients.”

Dr Jiang is focusing on abnormal signals within metastatic melanoma cells as a major cause of chemotherapy resistance. She has pinpointed a protein called INPP4B and will test whether it can be used as a biomarker and therapeutic target.

As with melanoma, ovarian cancer cells often develop chemotherapy resistance with fatal consequences for patients.  Dr Pradeep Tanwar has discovered a novel protein that selectively kills chemo-resistant cancer cells and can shrink ovarian tumours without any side effects. He is aiming to conduct clinical trials for the therapy.

Chief Cancer Officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW Professor David Currow said the research projects being funded provide exciting new opportunities for advances across the spectrum of cancer.

“The research spans the cancer journey, from cancer prevention and new approaches to cancer screening to advances in treatment for both early and metastatic disease and new approaches to psychosocial issues affecting people with cancer,” Professor Currow said.

*HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.