Mark Dawson

veski innovation fellow

In March 2014, Associate Professor Mark Dawson accepted the offer of a veski innovation fellowship worth $150,000 over three years. The funding of this fellowship will be matched in cash and in-kind by his host organisation the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Associate Professor Dawson is one of Australia’s most promising and talented clinician-researchers specialising in the fields of haematology and epigenetics. The high quality of his research is evidenced by the significant project grants and personal fellowships he has secured and the variety of publications and invitations to present at international conferences.

Research project: Targeting epigenetic readers in acute myeloid leukaemia

Epigenetics is one of the most active topics in cancer research with the potential to deliver a significant impact on a disease like acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which has a very poor prognosis.

Current chemotherapies and supportive care still fail to cure the majority of patients with AML, and more than 70 per cent of patients still succumb to the heterogeneous disease, which is driven by various acquired mutations in the DNA of blood cells. A new approach is urgently required. 

Epigenetic therapies which target proteins that package and regulate DNA have shown remarkable promise in the treatment of AML.  Associate Professor Dawson’s project aims to study the most common subtype of AML and establish a novel targeted epigenetic therapy against this disease.

Epigenetics broadly describes the study of chromatin biology. Chromatin, a complex made up of DNA and histone proteins, provides the context for the regulation of all DNA templated processes such as transcription, repair and replication. Therefore mutations in chromatin/epigenetic regulators may induce and/or maintain various cancers including AML.

The dynamic plasticity of the epigenome lends itself well to therapeutic manipulation and Dr Dawson has recently demonstrated this process with a small molecule (IBET151) that inhibits the bromodomain and extra terminal (BET) family of proteins. These chromatin ‘reader’ proteins survey the epigenetic landscape and function as transcriptional co-activators.

Mark will build on these initial studies, aiming to translate important basic science discoveries made in the laboratory into innovative and targeted cancer therapies at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and will build on previous collaborations with international pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

Key facts

  • In 2020 Mark received a Prime Minister's Prize for Science; the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.
  • In 2010, Mark secured a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellowship worth more than £1.3 million.
  • Mark is leading a group of researchers in the newly established Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
  • In 2006 he was one of eight Australians and the first clinician to be awarded the General Sir John Monash Fellowship.
  • He has returned to Victoria with his wife, Dr Sarah-Jane Dawson, also a leading clinician-researcher working at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
  • Prior to returning to Victoria, Dr Dawson was a consultant haematologist in the Department of Haematology, Addenbrooke’s Hospital University of Cambridge.

“As a clinician-researcher, my ultimate goal is to translate my work in the laboratory to patients in the clinic; with the support of industry, government and other funders, we can make real differences for people with cancer.”

Mark Dawson

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre