Dawson's visionary idea funded

21 January

veski innovation fellow Associate Professor Mark Dawson is leading one of four Victorian research teams with ideas described as ‘visionary’, including two from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, which have begun work to find new treatments for cancer types that are aggressive, difficult to treat or incurable, supported by new grants from Cancer Council Victoria.

In all, 89 bold research teams applied for funding under Cancer Council Victoria’s $3m Venture Grants Scheme — the only program of its kind in Australia.

Backed by a Venture Grant, Associate Professor Mark Dawson: Head, Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory at Peter Mac and a veski innovation fellow is developing treatments to try to eradicate leukaemia stem cells, which are at the root of the blood cancer, to assist those diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease.

Together with colleagues at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Associate Professor Dawson’s Peter Mac team are focusing on acute myeloid leukaemia — an aggressive blood cancer that only one in four people survive — using a unique method of growing large quantities of leukaemia stem cells in order to study which parts of those cells sustain them.

Associate Professor Dawson says the efficacy of many cancer therapies can be compared to pruning an unwanted shrub.

‘After attacking this shrub, it can regrow because the roots that sustain it, in this case the leukaemia stem cells, are unaffected.

‘In our research, we are using cutting-edge genetic technologies to assess whether individual epigenetic regulators affect the survival of these stem cells and, in turn, use this information to design drugs to eradicate them.’

A second Peter Mac project, led by Professor Ricky Johnstone: Head, Gene Regulation Laboratory, is seeking new proteins and pathways that allow for the growth and survival of cells in multiple myeloma, in order to find new treatments for the incurable blood disease.

‘Using state-of-the-art gene knockdown technologies, our team is screening 200 proteins within a multiple myeloma cell to identify which are needed for the cell’s growth and survival,’ says Professor Johnstone.

‘In turn, we plan to partner with chemists or other drug developers to develop new medication for laboratory testing.’

Associate Professor Dawson and Professor Johnstone, along with Professor Andrew Strasser at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Professor Roger Daly at Monash University, have been recognised as Metcalf Venture Grants recipients, in honour of the late Professor Don Metcalf AC’s commitment to and achievements in cancer research.

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