New Pancare Foundation scholarship winners announced
The Pancare Foundation proudly welcomes a new pair of Pancare Scholarship winners for the 2021 award round.
Dr Michael Kuan-Ching Lee, a medical oncologist from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the University of Melbourne, has been awarded the 2021 Onwards & Upwards Damien Woodruff Scholarship, to continue his PhD studies on targeting alternative splicing as a new therapeutic strategy for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
Ms Antonia Cadell, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, has been awarded the 2021 Phil Sly Research Scholarship. Throughout her PhD research, Antonia aims to establish the significance of subcellular “JNK” activity in pancreatic cancer and determine whether the novel therapeutic agents capable of specifically targeting oncogenic JNK activity in triple negative breast cancer will also be relevant for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Pancare Foundation’s Head of Programs, Dr Cara Markovic, said of this year’s winners, “Our team at Pancare is excited to be supporting two outstanding early-career researchers with world-class projects. For the past decade, Pancare scholarships have served as an important gateway for individual career development in pancreatic and upper gastrointestinal cancer research. With Antonia and Michael leading the way, the future is certainly looking very bright.”
About Pancare Foundation Scholarships
Fostering an engaged clinical research community is a major factor in developing research programs and clinical trials that will progress the therapies and best-practice care for those impacted by pancreatic and upper gastrointestinal (GI) cancers into the future.
Pancare Scholarships serve as a key deliverable for our strategic pillar of Supporting Future Leaders in our Research Strategy and a driver for our pillars of delivering new treatments, early detection, personalised medicine strategies, optimal patient care and clinical trials.
Our scholarships engage early-career clinicians and scientists to accelerate world-leading research and to deliver results that improve outcomes and quality of life for those living with upper GI cancer, their carers and families.
This year, in addition to offering the Phil Sly Research Scholarship for the second time, Pancare introduced the new Onwards & Upwards Damien Woodruff Scholarship and raised the value of both awards to a maximum value of $90,000 each, including administering institution support.
Pancare has now delivered more than $11.3 million for Australian research programs and patient and carer support services over the last 10 years. We have played a significant role in maintaining national focus on these devastating cancers, contributing to 15 major research projects and scholarships, funded to support early detection, new treatments, and cancer registries.
Onward & Upward Damien Woodruff Scholarship – 2021 Recipient, Dr Michael Kuan-Ching Lee
The newest Pancare Foundation Scholarship has been named in honour of Damien Woodruff, a bank executive, family man and pancreatic cancer survivor. After suffering vague symptoms for several months, Damien developed jaundice, which triggered a relatively early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in January 2015. This early diagnosis meant that he was able to opt for a Whipple procedure for the best chance of a cure. Following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Damien lived his “new” best life with family and friends for almost four years. Despite the adversity ahead of him and his family, Damien would always say ‘onwards and upwards’ to shift his mindset and move past the hurdles of their cancer journey.
Damien desperately wanted to defy the odds to become a five-year survivor, but that was not to be as Damien’s journey with pancreatic cancer sadly ended in January 2019. For the Woodruff family and Damien’s legacy, early detection is the most important breakthrough Australia needs when it comes to making progress in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
On behalf of the Woodruff family and the generous supporters – including Insurance Advisernet and those raising funds through Pancare’s Festival of Sport event – who made this award possible, Pancare is thrilled to announce the recipient as Dr Michael Kuan-Ching Lee.
Dr Lee obtained medical oncology specialist qualification through the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 2017. He then spent two years specialising in clinical translational genomic research in advanced cancers with a special focus in metastatic pancreatic cancer at BC Cancer and Michael Smith’s Science Centre in Vancouver, Canada. Dr Lee then returned to Melbourne to pursue his PhD with the aim of developing a novel therapy for pancreatic cancer, leveraging both bioinformatic methodologies and basic laboratory functional testing approaches.
The aim of Dr Lee’s Pancare-supported PhD project is to understand the role of alternative splicing as a new therapeutic strategy for pancreatic cancer. Alternative splicing is a method that cells use to create many proteins from the same strand of DNA. Dr Lee aims to uncover the biology of how PRMT5 inhibitor therapies work together to change the range of spliced events in pancreatic cancer cells and thereby slow or stop the growth of pancreatic tumours. This information may be critical to better select patients for therapy and/or uncover additional rationale for combination treatment in the future.
Dr Lee’s PhD is co-jointly supervised by Professor Grant McArthur and Associate Professor Karen Sheppard at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Professor Sean Grimmond, the Bertalli Chair in Cancer Medicine at the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research.
Dr Lee said: “My vision is to develop new effective therapies for the many pancreatic cancer patients I look after.
“To do so, I am upskilling in all aspects of treatment development to complement my skills as a clinician, and to enable me to deliver the best oncology care from bench to bedside.
“I am honoured to receive Pancare’s support to be able to extend the scope of my PhD and move one step closer to this vision.”
Phil Sly Research Scholarship – 2021 Recipient, Ms Antonia Cadell
The Phil Sly Research Scholarship was first awarded in 2013 to honour the life of Phil Sly, who was an entrepreneur, building developer, racehorse owner, philanthropist and cancer survivor. He battled colorectal cancer, liver and lung metastases with the same determination as applied to all aspects of his life. Phil was a supporter and friend to Pancare Foundation from its early days. He believed in fostering world-class research to improve the management of pancreatic, liver, biliary, oesophageal and stomach cancers. This scholarship acknowledges his generosity, passion and inspirational approach to life.
On behalf of the Sly family and the generous supporters at Pancare’s Heidelberg Corporate Golf Day, who made this award possible, Pancare is excited to announce the scholarship recipient as Ms Antonia Cadell.
A graduate of the University of Otago in New Zealand with a BSc (Hons) in genetics, Antonia worked as an undergraduate on the protein behind a group of single gene disorders in children called filaminopathies. She returned to Sydney and joined the Network Biology laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, where she worked on subcellular specific targeting of “JNK” as a novel therapy in breast cancer for three years.
The c-Jun N-terminal kinase, or JNK, pathway is one of the major signalling channels of the mitogen-activated protein kinase, or MAPK, pathway. The JNK pathway controls numerous cellular processes, including proliferation, development and death.
Antonia’s extensive in vitro experience will be used in collaboration with Professor Paul Timpson’s murine models and intravital imaging to create a unique workflow for her PhD, which aims to establish the significance of subcellular JNK activity in pancreatic cancer. Her work will also determine whether novel therapeutic agents capable of specifically targeting oncogenic JNK activity in triple negative breast cancer will also be relevant for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
“The Phil Sly Research Scholarship is a wonderful opportunity to work with Pancare to identify and characterise a new target and potential therapy for pancreatic cancer,” Antonia said.
“Using what we have learned in triple negative breast cancer, we hope to target the same cancer-causing, cytoplasmic form of JNK in pancreatic cancer.”
“Our novel drug discovery approach has identified an inhibitor capable of targeting the part of the JNK pathway that promotes metastasis. This project will investigate whether this function is conserved in pancreatic cancer,” she continued.
Associate Professor David Croucher, who is supervising Antonia’s research, said, “Antonia’s project focuses on investigating the complex roles of a protein called JNK in pancreatic cancer. We have already shown that JNK is necessary for breast cancer metastasis, but it is also an important tumour suppressor in normal tissue. We hope that our work on specifically targeting this metastatic function of JNK in breast cancer can be translated into the area of pancreatic cancer and lead to much needed, new treatment options.”
Read more about the impact of the Pancare Scholarships from previous winners.
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