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MHF awards innovation in brain cancer

Mar 6 2019

Five highly innovative brain cancer research projects have received over $725,000 in funding from the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) following a nationwide call-out and scientific review by experts in the field.

The recipients were revealed at Sydney’s Kolling Institute today, with guests including NRL Chief Executive Todd Greenberg, the Callander family and representatives of Channel Nine and Fox Sports to recognise rugby league’s support for the 2018 MHF Beanie Round.

MHF co-founder Mark Hughes says the inaugural Brain Cancer Innovation Project Grant Rounds are unique in that researchers have a relatively short timeframe to develop novel ideas in collaboration with other researchers.

“These projects will be conducted over one to two years, with the ultimate aim of solving the riddle of brain cancer,” he said. “We wanted to award funding to big thinkers who could knuckle down and tackle this insidious disease.”

MHF Scientific Committee strategies align with the National Brain Cancer Mission and aim to support research projects that, upon development, can then attract government funding, ensuring a complete translational pipeline with potential to improve patient outcomes.

Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Director Professor Tom Walley is excited by the potential of these new grants to allow researchers from around the country to work alongside the expertise and infrastructure at HMRI.

“HMRI and MHF have worked collaboratively to build research capacity in brain cancer,” Professor Walley said. “As an example, HMRI hosts genomics and genetic analysis – along with our cancer biobank and other specialist equipment – which we open to researchers locally, nationally and globally.”

Professor Hubert Hondermarck, from the University of Newcastle and HMRI, will receive almost $150,000 to explore a novel form of cancer research known as cancer neurobiology. He and his team will build on their work exploring the role of neurons in prostate, breast and thyroid cancers and transfer their knowledge to glioblastoma – a unique brain cancer.

Patient survival rates for glioblastoma have been stagnant, highlighting the need for new thinking.

“Recent evidence in other cancers, including from our laboratory, has demonstrated the crucial role played by neurons in stimulating cancer initiation and progression.” Professor Hondermarck said.

“The neurons can stimulate cancer cell growth and the propagation of cells. It’s vitally important to prevent this interaction between cancer cells and neurons to decrease the overall aggressiveness of glioblastoma.”

Other MHF Innovation Project Grant recipients are:

  • Dr Julius Woongki Kim from the Children’s Medical Research Institute in Sydney who is working on a novel treatment approach to high grade glioma (HGG) – the most aggressive form of brain tumour. The team will bioengineer Dendritic Cells, which are part of the normal immune system and work to ‘patrol the body and identify abnormally-acting cells’.
  • Dr Fatemeh Vafaee, from the University of New South Wales, and her team will harness the power of artificial intelligence and cutting-edge computational modelling to identify patterns of change in gene activities in patients with glioblastoma. The aim is to identify any signifiers pointing to tumour recurrence to optimise quality of life and survival.
  • HMRI researcher Dr Jonathan Goodwin from Calvary Mater Newcastle and his team are exploring glucose metabolism in head and neck cancer patients using a novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) based approach. This project aims to accurately and non-invasively measure glucose measurement in brain cancer to allow greater insight into the treatment process and to have a significant impact on cancer staging.
  • HMRI cancer researcher Dr Michael Fay, a MHF Mid-Career Fellow, and team are aiming to identify new targets and treatments for recurrent glioblastoma to prolong survival of patients. A specific protein found in prostate cancer cells, PSMA, is also found in glioblastoma cells and the team are exploring drugs to target PSMA as a new treatment option.

The focus for each project is innovation and collaboration, particularly with research teams at HMRI and the Brain Cancer Group. The Hunter Cancer Biobank and the MHF Brain Cancer Biobank are leading collaboration and innovation in brain cancer research nationally.

The next national round of Brain Cancer Innovation Grants will open later in 2019.