Trainees and staff

VPCC trainees are PhD, Masters and Honours students, as well as early-career researchers, from across our network of partners. The VPCC staff support and create crucial platforms that underpin our work. Together, they represent the next generation of paediatric cancer research that will make a difference in the lives of children with cancer.

Hudson Institute of Medical Research

Dr Paul Daniel

Ihara Shazia Adjumain

Ihara Shazia Adjumain is a PhD candidate co-funded by the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation and Hudson Institute of Medical Research. She completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at Deakin University and moved to Monash University to pursue an Honours year within the next-generation precision medicine program. Under the supervision of Professor Ron Firestein and Dr Paul Daniel, she is focussing on identifying novel therapeutic targets in paediatric high-grade gliomas with the aim of changing the odds of children fighting this debilitating disease.

Project description
High grade gliomas are malignant tumours that arise from the central nervous system. Despite advances in treatment, the five-year survival rate is still ~20%. Hence, there is an urgent need to discover novel therapies that could be used to treat patients with the disease. Shazia’s PhD project will use an integrative genomic approach consisting of CRISPR screens, Drug screens and “omics” data to identify novel targets in paediatric high-grade gliomas. This will be achieved through a comparative analysis process with adult high-grade gliomas. She is currently evaluating the role of BCL-2 family of proteins in driving tumourgenesis in paediatric high grade gliomas.

Dr Nicole Chew

Dr Nicole Chew is the Children’s Cancer Foundation senior organoid specialist for the Next Generation Precision Medicine Program, she joined the program in 2021. Dr Chew graduated with first-class Honours in BSc and completed her PhD at Monash University under the supervision of Professor Roger Daly. During this time, she investigated therapeutic targets and drug combinations for particular subtypes of breast cancer and liver cancer, utilising in vitro (including generation of inhibitor-resistant cell lines and organoids) and in vivo (PDX) models. Her research has identified novel targetable fusions and drug combinations as improved treatment strategies.

Project description
Paediatric brain cancer is the most common solid tumour cancer affecting children and young adults. By building cohorts of specific and rare brain cancers, these models would help identify therapeutic targets and biomarkers to improve patient prognosis. Dr Chew’s research work involves generating in vitro and in vivo models such as primary cell lines, xenografts and organoids derived from paediatric brain tumours to identify therapeutic targets and biomarkers as potential treatment options using pharmacological and functional genomic approaches.

Nicole Chew
Dr Paul Daniel

Dr Paul Daniel

Dr Paul Daniel is a Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the Hudson Monash Next Generation Precision Medicine Program. After completing his PhD with Dr Theo Mantamadiotis at Melbourne University, Dr Daniel undertook a three year postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University in Canada, looking into therapeutic opportunities in adult glioblastoma which emerge following exposure to chemotherapy. At the conclusion of Dr Daniel’s time in Canada, he then joined the Next Generation Program, led by Prof Ron Firestein, where he is involved in building the first paediatric-focused functional dependency map and expanding the library of known therapeutic opportunities for paediatric cancers.

Project description
Prolonged exposure of tumour cells to therapy results in progressive adaptation and acquisition of resistance, ultimately leading to treatment failure and disease recurrence. While preventing the acquisition of resistance has proved elusive thus far, we now know that adaptation of tumour cells to one type of therapy often results in the emergence of alternate therapeutic opportunities. Dr Daniel is currently interested in defining the underlying mechanisms driving acquired resistance to therapy in paediatric and adult brain cancers and how we can modulate evolutionary outcomes to favour emergence of states with predictable vulnerabilities. His research involves use of clinically relevant in vitro and in vivo tumour models, such as patient-derived cell lines and xenografts.

Dasun Fernando

Dasun Fernando is currently a PhD student within the Next Generation Precision Medicine program, working under the supervision of Professor Bryan Williams and Dr Afsar Ahmed. Dasun completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at Monash University with first class honours in 2018, where his research was focused on identifying therapeutic targets in colorectal cancer via high throughput drug screening. To pursue his interest in precision medicine, Dasun began his PhD in 2019, focusing on identifying therapeutic targets in paediatric high-grade gliomas with the aim of creating impact on therapeutic options for this vulnerable population.

Project description
Dasun’s research is centred around paediatric high-grade gliomas (pHGG), a debilitating form of childhood brain cancer for which the overall prognosis has remained poor for decades. With his project, Dasun aims to identify therapeutic targets of significance in treating pHGG by synergising the findings from high throughput drug screens, genomic CRISPR screens as well as ‘omics data in order to establish ideal treatment protocols. He is also interested in uncovering the mechanisms driving drug resistance within subpopulations of these tumours, and aims to understand how these characteristics can be targeted using combinatorial therapy to ultimately provide an optimised treatment protocol.

Mr Dasun Fernando
Ms Shaye Game

Shaye Game

Shaye Game is a PhD candidate in Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Centre for Cancer Research in the Developmental and Biology Laboratory. Shaye holds a Bachelor of Biomedical Science from Deakin University and Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours) from Monash University, which she completed 2016-2020.

Her interest in science began from a young age and continued to grow throughout high school as she thrived in science subjects. During her undergraduate studies, she discovered a passion for medical research, specifically for genetics/epigenetics and oncology.

Project description
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a devastating and fatal paediatric high-grade glioma that develops in the pons of the brain stem. Next generation sequencing has revealed ~80% of DIPG tumours exhibit an exclusive and highly recurrent heterozygous mutation in genes encoding histone variants, H3.3 (H3F3A) and H3.1 (HIST1H3B and HIST1H3C), resulting in lysine to methionine substitution (H3K27M), which is essential for epigenetic control of gene expression during development. Shaye’s project hopes to investigate the precise impact of H3K27M and subsequent epigenetic dysregulation on DIPG tumorigenesis to identify novel therapeutic opportunities.

Dr Yuqing Liang

Yuqing Liang is a PhD student at Hudson Institute of Medical Research in the Next Generation Precision Medicine Program. Yuqing completed a Bachelor of Medicine Oncology at Sun Yat-sen University in China. She then majored in paediatric oncology at Sun Yat-sen University Cancer Centre, where her research was focused on identifying prognostic markers in children with high-risk neuroblastoma via clinical features and CT radiomics. To pursue her interest in precision medicine, Yuqing began her PhD under the supervision of Professor Ron Firestein and Professor David Eisenstat in 2021, focusing on identifying novel therapeutic targets in diffuse midline glioma (DMG). Her aim is to create a positive impact on therapeutic options for this vulnerable population.

Project description
Yuqing’s research is centred on diffuse midline glioma (DMG), a debilitating form of childhood brain cancer for which the overall prognosis has remained poor for decades. Hence there is an urgent need to discover novel therapies that could be used to treat patients with the disease. As part of Yuqing’s PhD project, she will perform innovative genetic screens on DMG patient models to identify new therapeutic targets and biomarkers that predict response.

Yuxing Liang

Melissa Loi

Melissa Loi is the technical sequencing specialist for the Next Generation Precision Medicine Program at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research. She completed her Bachelor in Biotechnology and received Honours in Nanotechnology from the University of South Australia in 2009. Prior to joining the Hudson Institute, Melissa had over 10 years’ experience in the field of Infectious diseases, Immunology and therapeutics quality control.

Project description
Her role involves using molecular methods to assist in generating an encyclopaedia of genomic profiles for childhood brain tumours. Using in vitro models of paediatric brain tumour, she uses CRISPR-Cas9 technology to perform knock-out screens and generate DNA libraries for sequencing. Her work also involves preparing samples to decode the epigenetics modifications that regulate gene expression using methylation analysis and chromatin accessibility sequencing.

Melissa Loi
Monty Panday

Monty Panday

Monty Panday completed his Masters of IT at Swinburne University in 2022, specialising in software development. He previously graduated from Deakin University in 2018 as Bachelor of Information Technology majoring in software development and cloud computing. He works closely with researchers and clinical oncology staff to manage and update a number of databases including scientific, clinical and biobanking databases.

Project description
Monty manages the database systems for VPCC Next Generation Precision Medicine Program and was tasked with developing the new database for the Next Generation Precision Medicine Program. In his role, he manages the delivery of data analytics and reporting to help achieve the program’s operation objectives and funding milestones.

Ms Sarah Parackal

Sarah Parackal

Sarah Parackal is a PhD candidate co-funded by the Children’s Cancer Foundation and Hudson Institute of Medical Research. Originally from Dunedin, New Zealand, Sarah completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences (2015) and a Master of Science in Biochemistry (2018) at the University of Otago. She first became interested in the field of precision medicine during her final year of undergraduate study and pursued this with a student internship at a biotech firm followed by a Master’s research degree. Looking for potential PhD opportunities in Australia led her to the Hudson Monash Next Generation Precision Medicine Program within the Centre for Cancer Research where she is currently co-supervised by Dr Jason Cain and Professor Ron Firestein. Sarah was very keen to do a PhD project utilising precision medicine with a direct translational impact of improving survival in cancer patients.

Project description
Paediatric brain tumours, while rare, are the top cause of death among childhood cancer patients. Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a lethal brain stem tumour where current treatment regimens fail to improve patient survival. A highly prevalent and characteristic oncohistone mutation of DIPG, H3K27M has been previously shown to be associated with a wildly diverse molecular landscape and dysregulated chromatin. Sarah’s PhD project will use functional genomic tools and large scale ‘omic data to investigate DIPG’s key tumourigenic dependencies for targeted therapeutic development. Findings from her research will expand the current understanding of DIPG’s molecular mechanisms and strengthen molecularly informed therapy as a treatment regimen for DIPG patients.

Christie Sun

Christie Sun is a PhD candidate in the Centre of Cancer Research, Developmental and Cancer Biology Research group at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research. Christie completed a Master of Reproductive Sciences with first class honours from Monash University.

Her interest in cancer research was enhanced by her experiences during her Masters research into female infertility and has formed the basis of her career path. The research title of Christie’s research is improving childhood osteosarcoma risk stratification and outcomes for recurrent disease.

Project description
Osteosarcoma is the most common malignant primary bone tumour, accounting for approximately one in five bone sarcomas worldwide and more than one in three bone cancers in Australia. To date, although all great efforts have been made in the treatment management, clinical outcomes stay stagnant and remain poor for the osteosarcoma patient. In this project, we will assess the primary tissue of sarcoma patients to determine molecular and functional pathways predictive of therapeutic response, metastasis and survival outcomes. Identifying predictive biomarkers of therapeutic response and survival would represent a major development in the field and enable the future risk stratification of patients and appropriate adaptation of therapy to minimise and improve side effects overall.

Ms Christie Sun

Dr Xin (Claire) Sun

Dr Claire Sun is an early career researcher with a strong interest in applying bioinformatics tools to decode paediatric cancers. She undertook her Masters at the University of Melbourne, with a research focus on non-coding RNA biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease, from which she gained experience in biomarker research using next generation sequencing. During her PhD, which she completed at at Monash University, she performed pioneering work in epigenetic regulation of mitochondrial DNA in tumorigenesis, which extended her skills in bioinformatics and eventually culminated in three major research papers. Global DNA methylation synergistically regulates the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes was published in Nucleic Acids Research; Modulation of mitochondrial DNA copy number in a model of glioblastoma induces changes to DNA methylation and gene expression of the nuclear genome in tumours was published in Epigenetics & Chromatin; and The degree of mitochondrial DNA methylation in tumor models of glioblastoma and osteosarcoma was published in Clinical Epigenetics.

Project description
In the VPCC Next Generation Precision Medicine Program, Dr Sun is working with cutting-edge bioinformatics tools to translate basic research findings into clinical applications.

Xin Cliare Sun

Motahhareh (Flora) Tourchi

Motahhareh (Flora) Tourchi is a PhD candidate in the Next Generation Precision Medicine program at Hudson Institute of Medical Research. In 2019, she was awarded a full international PhD scholarship by Monash University, and was highly ranked.

Flora completed her Masters in cancer research and cell and molecular biology at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran, and her research outcomes have been published in relevant outstanding journals. Flora was a research assistant in Biomedicine at the Medical Faculty at Gaziantep University, Turkey for 3 years (2014-2017).

Project description
Flora is doing her PhD project under the supervision of Professor Ron Firestein and Dr Jason Cain. Her PhD project is focussed on identifying the functional genomic target and a new therapeutic target in DIPG tumourigenesis. She is evaluating the role and genetic interactions of PRC2 complex genes in tumourigenesis of DIPG cells. She has determined novel gene dependencies, their biological functions and involved pathways in DIPG tumourigenesis.

Ms Motahhareh (Flora) Tourchi
Vanessa Tsui

Dr Vanessa Tsui

Dr Vanessa Tsui is a Robert Connor Dawes Postdoctoral Research Fellow focusing on functional genomic approaches to identify new therapeutic targets in childhood brain cancers. She undertook a Bachelor of Science (Genetics major) and Master of Biomedical Science at the University of Melbourne. During her Masters, she investigated the role of interleukin-11 in adult glioblastoma. Dr Tsui completed her PhD with A/Prof Wayne Crismani at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, where she studied Fanconi anaemia, a disease that predisposes patients to cancer. At the conclusion of her PhD in 2022, she joined Prof Firestein’s lab where she is currently applying innovative genetic technologies to map the functional dependencies in rare forms of childhood brain cancers, funded by the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation.

Project description
Paediatric brain tumours are the leading cause of death among children and young adult cancer patients. There is a need to improve prognosis and identify new therapeutic targets. Utilising paediatric brain tumour cell lines, Dr Tsui will conduct high throughput functional genomics screens using CRISPR/Cas9 technology to map functional dependencies in rare forms of childhood brain cancers.

Monash University

Liesl Bramberger

Liesl Bramberger

Liesl Bramberger is a PhD student working with Dr Pouya Faridi in his Translational Antigen Discovery Lab at Monash Medical Centre. She completed her Bachelor of Science at Monash University and continued with an Honours degree in the Purcell Lab at Monash University. After Dr Faridi started his own lab she followed to help set up the new lab at Monash Medical Centre. Here she started working with Dr Jason Cain, her co-supervisor, on histone deacetylase inhibitors in the paedatric brain cancer DIPG.

Project description
Liesl Bramberger’s project is about developing combination therapies for DIPG with a focus on immunotherapy. She is studying the effect of radiotherapy and epigenetic modulators such as histone decacetylase inhibitors and copper chelators on the expression of different immunotherapy targets in DIPG cell lines.

Grace Huang

Grace Huang

Grace Huang is an Honours student working on a project at the Monash University School of Clinical Sciences and Hudson Institute of Medical Research’s Centre for Cancer Research, under the supervision of Dr Pouya Faridi and Dr Jason Cain. She completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and a Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University in 2021. In the Faridi Lab and Cain Lab, Grace is focussing on using epigenetic drugs to potentially increase antigen presentation and expression in solid tumours which have poor outcome.

Project description
Grace Huang’s project involves epigenetic regulatory drugs, such as histone deacetylase inhibitors, and whether they can restore the antigen processing pathway in childhood solid tumours. The aim is to study the effect of epigenetic modifier drugs on HLA expression levels in solid tumour cells, particularly osteosarcoma cell lines.

Dr Dongbin Jin

Dr Jin completed his Bachelor of Science in Biology in China and Master of Science in Immunology in South Korea, before undertaking his PhD and Postdoctoral research on cancer vaccine development at Garvan Institute in Sydney Australia, under the supervision of Prof Jonathan Sprent. His expertise is on animal models of anti-tumour studies, cellular immunology, dendritic cells, cell culture, T cell functional assays, and flow cytometry.

Project description
At Garvan, Dr Jin used preclinical models to develop novel vaccine technologies that can expand cytotoxic T cells in an unprecedented way. These technologies are broadly applicable to different types of cancer and infectious diseases. He plans to extend these exciting findings into more clinically relevant settings in the Translational Antigen Discovery Laboratory at Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

Dongbin KJin
Terry Lim

Dr Terry Lim

Dr Terry Lim graduated with a Bachelor of Biotechnology with first-class Honours (specialising in medical biotechnology) and subsequently completed a PhD at Monash University under the supervision of Professor Anthony Purcell. His PhD work involved cutting-edge proteomics and immunopeptidomics mass spectrometry techniques to understand the immunology of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-B27 in the development of the autoimmune disease Ankylosing Spondylitis.

Dr Lim’s interests in cancer biology has led a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Professor Roger Daly’s laboratory. During this time, he applied phosphoproteomics techniques as a tool to dissect the molecular changes in pancreatic, brain and breast cancer patient-derived organoids (PDO) and xenografts (PDX) models, to identify novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets for personalised cancer treatments.

Project description
Dr Lim currently holds a joint research fellow position in VPCC researcher Dr Pouya Faridi’s laboratory and the Monash Proteomics and Metabolomics Facility. Using both mouse and human models of diffuse midline glioma (DMG), his project involves developing immunotherapy applying his expertise in (phospho)proteomics and immunopeptidomics, with a focus in developing high-throughput platforms for large scale clinical proteomics studies.

Ms Chelsea Mayoh

Murray Manning

Murray Manning is the Platform Manager at the Monash Functional Genomics Platform. This platform provides the facilities and expertise to support genomics research at Monash University and externally. He completed his Masters in Molecular Biology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, achieving Cum Laude honours for his thesis in the developmental biology field. Environmental biology and developing his talent for the use of CRISPR for answering questions in molecular biology led him to continue his career at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute in 2019. He continued carrying out research in the Rosenbluh lab using pooled CRISPR screening to elucidate the links between breast cancer genes, before joining the Genomics Platform in 2021. His current focus is on providing cutting-edge techniques to enable researchers in their experiments and data acquisition.

Project description
As part of the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium, he will undertake combination CRISPR screens in paediatric cell lines, aimed at identifying new drug targets and mechanisms of action.

Dr Fatemeh Shamekhi

Dr Fatemeh Shamekhi received her PhD in Nanobiotechnology in 2018. In 2021, she joined Translational Antigen Discovery-Faridi Laboratory at Monash Medical Centre, to pursue her interest in identifying HLA-bound peptide targets for the development of paediatric brain tumours precision immunotherapies. She is honoured to have been awarded the Kye Funch scholar, supported by the Australian Communities Foundation through the Isabella and Marcus Foundation, to investigate diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), the most aggressive of all childhood cancers.

Project description
Dr Shamekhi’s project is about using multi-omics technologies, particularly genomics, transcriptomics, and immunopeptidomics, to identify novel targets for DIPG and other childhood brain tumour immunotherapy.

Fatemeh Shamekhi
Ms Maheshi Udugama

Maheshi Udugama

Maheshi Udugama is working as a research officer in the Wong laboratory at Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute. She earned her Bsc (Hons) in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and then moved to the USA to continue with her PhD at Southern Illinois University. Her PhD focussed on the mechanism of ATP dependent chromatin remodelling of INO80 complex. She also investigated the phenomenon of mitotic bookmarking in erythroid progenitors during her postdoc at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, USA. Currently she is investigating how histone H3.3 mutations drive the activation of telomere maintenance mechanism and cellular immortality in paediatric glioblastomas. She has been an author on 11 publications including in Cell, Genome Research, Nature Communications, PNAS.

Project description
Brain cancers are the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in children and young adults. DNA sequencing studies have identified two common point mutations in histone variant H3.3, in paediatric glioblastomas (pGBMs). The first mutation replaces Lysine 27 with a Methionine (K27M). The second one replaces Glycine 34 with an Arginine (G34R). H3.3G34R mutations always overlap with ATRX mutations, and these pGBMs are activated in the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) telomere maintenance pathway. One of my research aims is to explore how H3.3 G34R and ATRX act together to drive ALT activation, and use this information to develop novel therapeutic strategies for treating H3.3/ATRX-mutated pGBMs. My other aim is to investigate the effects of H3.3 and ATRX mutations on ribosomal gene organisation and transcription in ALT-positive pGBMs. The outcome of this work will be the identification of new potential targets in pGBMs vulnerable to therapeutic interventions.

Dr Hsiao Voon

Dr Hsiao Voon is a postdoc in the Wong lab at the Biomedical Discovery Institute (Monash University), where she studies chromatin biology and genome regulation. Dr Voon completed her PhD at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (University of Melbourne) on gene therapy for thalassaemias. She then completed a postdoc at the Weatherall Institute (Oxford University) where she studied the role of ATRX in gene and chromatin regulation. ATRX/H3.3 were subsequently found to be frequently mutated in paediatric brain tumours. She is currently a postdoc in the Wong lab at Monash University where she is investigating how mutations in ATRX/H3.3 promote the formation of brain tumours. She has published a number of highly cited papers on the biology of ATRX and H3.3, and how mutations in this complex lead to paediatric brain tumours.

Project description
Lab engineers in the Wong lab develop precise genetic mutations to create accurate cell models which we use to understand brain cancers. These mutant cell lines are analysed using high-throughput sequencing to create chromatin and transcription profiles. Hsiao conducts bioinformatics analyses of these profiles to pinpoint how mutations act individually and in combination to promote brain cancers. We have successfully used these techniques to show that H3.3 G34R acts through inhibition of a chromatin modifier (KDM4). We have further shown this mutation acts in concert with ATRX mutations to facilitate telomere maintenance in cancer. We are currently working on how paediatric glioma H3.3 mutations disrupt the formation and localisation of nuclear compartments, with the aim of targeting these compartments for therapy.

Ms Hsiao Voon
Yunjian Wu

Dr Yunjian Wu

Dr Yunjian Wu completed his Doctor of Medicine in Urology at Sichuan University, China before undertaking PhD studies with Professor Roger Daly in the Biomedicine Discovery Institute Cancer Program and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Monash University. His PhD focused on applying proteomic techniques including mass spectrometry (MS) to characterising intercellular communication in the prostate cancer microenvironment.

Project description
Dr Wu is applying MS-based (phospho) proteomic techniques and associated bioinformatic analyses to characterize signalling networks across large panels of patient-derived paediatric cancer cell lines, including those derived from glioma, in order to identify novel therapeutic targets and biomarkers.

WEHI (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research)

Valeria Arcucci

Dr Valeria Arcucci

Dr Valeria Arcucci is a postdoctoral researcher in A/Prof Misty Jenkins’ laboratory at WEHI (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research). She completed her PhD in 2021 at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and moved to WEHI to pursue her interest in immune-oncology and the biology of the tumour microenvironment in brain tumours. Her project focuses on the characterising the interactions between immune cells and tumour cells within the tumour microenvironment of paediatric brain cancers in order to identify biomarkers and shape immunotherapies for children with brain tumours.

Project description
Paediatric brain tumours are the most common type of solid tumours in children and also the main cause of death from cancer. Immunotherapies have recently proven to be incredibly efficacious in treating a variety of human cancers and could be the right approach in treating paediatric brain tumours that do not respond to current therapies. Response to immune therapies has been shown to closely correlate with the tumour immune microenvironment (TME) and therefore an accurate knowledge of the TME of paediatric brain malignancies is crucial in predicting responses to the immunotherapies being tested. Importantly, this information could shape the type of immunotherapies that should be used to treat different central nervous systmn malignancies.
Dr Arcucci’s project aims to perform in-depth analysis of the TME of paediatric brain tumours using cutting-edge “omics” technologies including spatial transcriptomics and MIBI-TOF, a multiplex staining technique that allows staining of 40 markers at once. With this project, she ultimately aims to define in detail the characteristics of the TME of paediatric brain tumours so that she can help shape immunotherapies for children with brain tumours.

Dr Alexander Davenport

Dr Alexander Davenport is a Postdoctoral scientist at WEHI (the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute). After completing his PhD in fundamental CAR-T cell biology at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre he moved to the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge UK, focussing on the fundamentals of T-cell biology. He then moved to a start-up where he led a team in the creation of immune cells from iPSCs which is seeking to solve to problem of cellular supply in immuno-oncology. Alex was recruited back to Australia as a post doc at the start of 2022 under the supervision of A/Prof Misty Jenkins to discover novel protein targets and create new immunotherapies for paediatric brain cancers.

Project description

Diffuse Midline Glioma (DMG) is a rare but lethal paediatric brain tumour with a median survival of one year. Less than 10% of cases survive past two years. The only current proven treatment is radiotherapy. With the success of CAR-T cell therapy in childhood leukaemia we are looking to expand this into a range of childhood brain cancers, most notably DMG. One of the greatest challenges is finding surface targets that are expressed on the tumour but not on healthy cells. This project seeks to discover a range of potential tumour antigens and re-direct the immune system to eradicate brain tumours.

 

Alex Davenport

Krishneel Prasad

Krishneel Prasad is an Honours student at WEHI (the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute). He completed a Bachelor of Biomedicine at the University of Melbourne in 2021 where he undertook short projects in cancer-focused labs that fostered his passion to step into research. Complementing this, Krishneel enjoys communicating cancer science as part of the student run ‘Young Australian’s Cancer Initiative’. Today, with co-supervision by A/Prof Misty Jenkins, Dr Alexander Davenport and Dr Ryan Cross, he will investigate novel immunotherapeutic solutions for paediatric high-grade gliomas.

Project description
Diffuse midline glioma (DMG) is a lethal high-grade glioma that has seen minimal therapeutic advances in children for decades. Complications with its infiltration into brainstem structures has rendered current therapies largely ineffective, accounting for its poor prognosis. The Jenkins lab aims to utilise a new immunotherapeutic approach, termed CAR-T cell therapy, to re-engineer patient T cells to specifically kill brain cancers. Krishneel will utilise proteomic and transcriptomic profiles of DMG to identify novel CAR-T cell targets and validate their function in DMG models.

 

Krishneel Prasad

Murdoch Children's Research Institute

Dr Michael Assis

Michael Assis is a mathematical physicist, having received his PhD in statistical mechanics and enumerative combinatorics from Stony Brook University in 2014.

Afterwards he moved to the University of Melbourne for a research fellowship in computational statistical mechanics, followed by a research fellowship at the University of Newcastle in computational mathematics.

In 2021 Michael became the program manager of the Fertility Preservation Taskforce at the University of Melbourne and The Royal Children’s Hospital, joining MCRI in 2022 as a research assistant for a pharmacogenomics study on premature ovarian insufficiency. Aside from his interest in fertility research, he continues to be involved in mathematics, teaching at RMIT and La Trobe University in 2022.

Ms Sarah Grimshaw
Lane Collier

Lane Collier

Lane Collier completed her Bachelor of Biomedicine and Bachelor of Science (Honours) at Victoria University in December 2019.

Upon completing university, she worked at Department of Health in the COVID-19 Response team as a Senior Data Manager. In June 2022, she moved to Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) to work with A/Prof Rachel Conyers and A/Prof David Elliott under the Australian Cardio-oncology Registry (ACOR) umbrella of research work. Lane is the ACOR National Project Manager and will be working on multiple research projects looking at the effect of cardio-toxic chemotherapy on heart health. In addition, she hopes to go back to university to complete her Doctor of Medicine and become an oncologist.

Ben Felmingham

Ben Felmingham has focused his career in paediatric oncology pharmacy with 10 years experience in the Cancer Pharmacy at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.

In late 2021 he moved to the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) to work with A/Prof Rachel Conyers and A/Prof David Elliott under the Australian Cardio-oncology Registry (ACOR) umbrella of research work. He has since led the development of the first paediatric cardio-oncology guidelines and implemented and coordinates the multidisciplinary cardio-oncology clinic at The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.

Ben is now expanding his expertise into pharmacogenomics and will be working on multiple research projects looking at the effects of pharmacogenomic screening for potential gene-drug interactions, and thus providing and investigating therapeutic recommendations for actionable variants in the paediatric population.

Ben Felmingham

Sarah Grimshaw

Sarah Grimshaw is a physiotherapist currently undertaking her PhD through the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and La Trobe University. Her PhD is investigating novel ways to improve physical activity participation and reduce the sedentary behaviour seen in children undergoing acute cancer treatment.

Sarah worked for many years as the senior physiotherapist to oncology at The Royal Children’s Hospital, is chair of the research advisory council for the charity Little Big Steps and tutors for the Masters of Physiotherapy degree at La Trobe University.

Project description
Increasing participation in physical activity has the potential to improve outcomes for children and adolescents with cancer during treatment and into survivorship. CanMOVE is a behaviour change intervention aiming to increase a child/adolescent’s motivation, opportunity, and capacity towards physical activity during the acute phases of cancer treatment. Key intervention components of CanMOVE include standardised assessment and monitoring (physical activity, physical function, health-related quality of life), provision of an activity monitor for both child/adolescent and parent, and one-on-one capacity-building sessions with a physiotherapist.

Capacity-building sessions include individualised education, goal setting, active supervised physical activity sessions, barrier identification, problem solving, and action planning. CanMOVE gives children and adolescents control over how they want to move more through making physical activity achievable and incorporating it into their everyday routine. CanMOVE is being piloted for feasibility at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. Results will inform future services to promote physical activity within the paediatric cancer setting.

Ms Sarah Grimshaw
Mr Ryan Leung

Ryan Leung

Ryan Leung was born and raised in Hong Kong, and has been living in Melbourne for seven years. Growing up, he always dreamt of studying veterinary science, however the excitement of research and lab work caught his attention during his undergraduate studies, and he decided to pursue a career in research instead. After completing his bachelor degree, Ryan did a Masters degree to gain some research experience in studying the importance of alternative splicing in malaria parasites, although his research was somewhat compromised due to COVID-19. Currently, he is undertaking a PhD in the neuro-oncology lab at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, under the supervision of Professor David Eisenstat and Dr Maree Faux.

Project description
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is highly aggressive and difficult to treat; ~80% of these tumours have histone H3 K27M mutations. Most DIPG cells resemble oligodendroglial progenitor cells (OPC). DLX homeobox genes are necessary for GABAergic interneuron differentiation and migration. DLX transcription factors directly repress genes required for OPC development. Through using advanced methods in molecular, cell and development biology, the project aims to identify the DLX2 gene regulatory network in the forebrain development, and to investigate the interaction of DLX2 and other transcription factors and its functions. By using RNAseq, the project will assess expression level of DLX2 and its target genes in DIPG tumours, to examine the relations between DIPG and brain development regulated by DLX2 and/or its target genes.

Sam Moloney

Sam Moloney

Sam Moloney is an Honours student at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute under the supervision of A/Prof Jordan Hansford and Professor David Eisenstat. He completed a Bachelor of Biomedicine at the University of Melbourne in 2021, majoring in Human Structure and Function.

Project description

Diffuse midline glioma (DMG) is a highly aggressive and invariably fatal childhood cancer with a median survival of 9-11 months. While an even earlier death is rare, a small sub-group of patients experience a sudden and unexpected deterioration, surviving less than  3 months from diagnosis. Our project aims to identify patterns in presentation and imaging that might predict short-term survival in the DMG cohort at The Royal Children’s Hospital. In doing so, clinicians can provide more informed counselling to assist parents in making critical treatment and quality of life decisions.

 

Enola Roussel

Enola Roussel was born and raised in France, and has been living in Australia since 2016. She completed a Bachelor of Science with Honours at Monash University, completing her honours project with Dr Jason Cain at Hudson Institute of Medical Research. Since her first year of undergraduate study, she has been interested in genetics and decided to focus on the genetic part of oncology in her final year of undergraduate study. Her honours project focussed on characterising the molecular and functional contribution of H3.3K27M in the development of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, and Enola will be pursuing this field in her Masters research. She is currently a Master of Biomedical Science at the University of Melbourne, completing her Masters with Prof David Eisenstat at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Project description
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a lethal paediatric high-grade glioma that arises in the brainstem. The hallmark of this cancer is a point mutation (K27M) in genes encoding H3 histone variants. Single cell RNAseq shows that DIPG cells resemble oligodendroglial progenitor cells (OPC). The Eisenstat lab has shown that DLX2 binds to the promoters of genes essential for OPC differentiation. This project will identify DLX2 gene regulatory networks in forebrain development and evaluate expression of target genes in DIPG cell lines. This will be done by assessing the gain and loss of function of Dlx2 in DIPG cell lines carrying histone H3 mutations in vitro and in vivo.

Ms Enola Roussel
Tayla Stenta

Tayla Stenta

Tayla Stenta completed her Bachelor of Science at North Carolina State University in 2018, prior to an honours year at the University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute under A/Prof Shireen Lamande and Prof John Bateman.

Her honours project and subsequent years as a research assistant focused on using induced pluripotent stem cells to model human genetic diseases. In particular, aiming to understand the genetic basis of TRPV4- associated skeletal dysplasias. In June 2022, she moved to the Heart Regeneration group at MCRI to work with A/Prof Rachel Conyers and A/Prof David Elliott, where she will work across multiple projects looking at the real time implementation of pharmacogenomics and a predictive approach to identifying infertility risks in paediatric cancer patients.

 

Isabella Wang

Isabella Wang is an honours student at the University of Melbourne currently working on a project at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute under the supervision of A/Prof Rachel Conyers and A/Prof David Elliot. She completed her Bachelor of Biomedicine in 2021 majoring in cell and developmental biology.

Project description
With overall survival rates of paediatric cancers at around 80%, there needs to be a focus on the long-term health of cancer survivors. Her project is retrospectively defining a cohort of patients who possess one or more of the 21 ‘unacceptable toxicities’ as defined by the Ponte di Legno Severe Toxicity Working group. These toxicities have severe long-term impacts on patients affecting activities of daily living, which includes conditions such as blindness and cardiac failure. This project will contribute to a pharmacogenomics project that seeks to identify genes that lead to a severe toxicity arising from cancer treatment. As a result, the genes identified could be screened for prior to cancer treatment allowing the course of treatment to be altered in order to prevent a severe toxicity.

 

Isabella Wang

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Lachlan Maloney

Lachlan McAloney is a PhD student at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre within the Cancer Immunology Program under the supervision of A/Prof Paul Ekert and Dr Teresa Sadras as well as Professor David Eisenstat from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. He holds a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Biomedicine (Honours) from the University of Melbourne, completed 2017-2021. His honours project focused on using multiplex immunohistochemistry to define the tumour microenvironment of nestin-derived brain and germ cell tumours. He realised his passion for cancer immunology during his undergraduate studies and wanted the opportunity to complete his PhD candidature at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Project description
Lachlan’s project aims to shed light on the molecular basis of the oncogenic function of a new class of fusion oncogenes which deregulate the expression of homeobox (Hox) genes normally expressed in early embryogenesis. This class of fusions have been seen in cases of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in paediatrics. He will focus on a group of previously uncharacterized Hox-fusions which were identified by his lab group (RUNX1-EVX1, ETV6-MNX1 and ETV6-CRX) with the end goal of discovering if this class of fusions can be therapeutically targeted.

Lachlan Maloney
Dr Teresa Sadras

Dr Teresa Sadras

Teresa Sadras is a molecular biologist with a longstanding research interest in the genetic, signalling and microenvironmental networks which are deregulated in blood cancers, and how these impact on disease progression, prognosis and response to therapy. After the completion of her PhD from the University of Adelaide in 2014, Dr Sadras undertook two post-doctoral positions, firstly at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), followed by four years at the Beckman Research Institute in Los Angeles in the laboratory of Dr Markus Muschen. During this time, Dr Sadras was awarded a Lymphoma Research Foundation Fellowship for her research in B-cell leukaemia and lymphoma. Teresa joined the research group of A/Prof Paul Ekert at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in December 2020 as a senior post-doctoral scientist.

Project description
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer, and while advances in chemotherapy allow long-term survival rates approaching 85%, disease relapse remains one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in children and young adults. The work of Dr Sadras is focused on developing new models and experimental pipelines to investigate the biological mechanisms that drive cancer growth and therapy resistance in children with ALL.

Dr Carolyn Shembrey

Dr Carolyn Shembrey is a postdoctoral researcher working within the Cancer Immunology Program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Carolyn completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research. By combining traditional wet lab approaches with computational biology, she aimed to interrogate the extent of natural killer cell involvement in metastatic colorectal cancer liver metastases and determine whether particular patient characteristics could be harnessed for innate immunotherapy. Carolyn complements her research skills with several years of experience in tutoring undergraduate pathology in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Melbourne.

Project description
Neuroblastoma is the most common solid extracranial malignancy in children. Patients who present with amplification of the MYCN gene, encoding the transcription factor n-Myc, have particularly poor prognosis. Using novel CRISPR-based RNA engineering tools, Carolyn’s research focusses on developing personalised RNA-directed therapeutics to help target tumour drivers such as MYCN in this high-risk childhood cancer.

Dr Carolyn Shembrey

The Royal Children's Hospital

Diane Hanna

Dr Diane Hanna

Dr Hanna obtained her Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS Hon.) from Monash University in 2007. She commenced paediatric training at The Royal Children’s Hospital in 2009 and became a Fellow of the Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP), Paediatrics and Child Health: Oncology in 2015. In 2021, she was awarded her Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) through The University of Melbourne, under the supervision of Prof Andrew Roberts, A/Prof Paul Ekert, Dr Seong Lin Khaw and Dr Ashley Ng. Dr Hanna is currently a full-time paediatric oncologist at RCH, where she is an Australian clinical leader in paediatric leukaemia, haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) and cellular and novel therapies. Dr Hanna chairs the Victorian Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service (PICS) Leukaemia Multi-Disciplinary Meeting (MDM) and authored the oncology chapters of the 9th and 10th edition of the RCH’s Paediatric Handbook. Dr Hanna has built strong collaborations within the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance as a steering group member for the Accelerate Novel Therapies Program in 2021, since which time she has also become involved in several working groups including: Drug Formulary, Clinical Trialist Development Hub, and Increase Awareness and Access to Early Phase Cancer Clinical Trials. Since 2021, she is actively involved with national Zero Childhood Cancer (ZCC) Precision Medicine (PRISM) 2.0 as an expert member of the ALL and AML working groups including chair of the High-risk Definition subgroup and member of the Upfront ALL, Relapsed ALL, Data Integration, Research Question Development and Pharmacogenomics/Toxicity subgroups. In 2021, she co-authored the first National Optimal Care Pathway (OCP) for children, adolescents and young adults with acute leukaemia, an initiative endorsed by the Australian Government. In 2022, Dr Hanna was selected to receive the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust Social Purpose Scholarship to undertake the Women in Senior Leadership (WISL) course at the Melbourne Business School.

Project description

Dr Hanna’s PhD, funded by The Kid’s Cancer Project, informed the clinical utility of BH3-mimetic (drugs targeting cell death) combinations in HR-ALL by identifying synergistic combinations with each other as well as standard and targeted agents in vitro, evaluated the efficacy and tolerability of combination venetoclax (BCL-2 inhibitor) and S63845 (MCL-1 inhibitor) in vivo, and investigated mechanisms of therapeutic resistance using an unbiased genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 loss-of-function screen and mass cytometry. She discovered that co-inhibition of BCL-2 and MCL-1 induces synergistic killing in vitro and rapid cytoreduction in vivo in a range of HR B-ALL models, including the Ph+ and Ph-like subtypes, and that the combination of BCL-2 and MCL-1 inhibition was comparable or superior to steroid or TKI combined with each BH3-mimetic. She found that although this combination of BH3-mimetics was tolerable in vivo at lower doses, histologic evidence of haematopoietic toxicity and tumour lysis syndrome was observed in NSG mice and PDX models, respectively. She observed that the expression level of BCL-2 family anti-apoptotic genes (BCL-2 and MCL-1), BH3-only class of pro-apoptotic genes (NOXA and BAX), surface markers (CD38, CD179a, and CD34) and cell signalling pathways (pSTAT5), predicted treatment resistance. Co-targeting BCL-2 and MCL-1 warrants evaluation in clinical trials that incorporate supportive care including infection prophylaxis and tumour lysis precautions. The findings from her research has formed the foundation for future studies to test novel combinations of drugs, on the basis of their ability to act on non-overlapping mechanisms, which are likely to result in synergistic anti-leukaemia efficacy.

Dr Hanna is a passionate clinician-researcher who continues to integrate cutting-edge cancer research into clinical care to improve the outcomes for patients by building on what is known about the biology of treatment failure and leading appropriate clinical trials.  She has a strong faciliatory role in encouraging and leading research in the clinical environment as the Oncology Lead for the Research Innovation and Implementation Committee and Deputy Director of the Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) at the Children’s Cancer Centre (CCC) at RCH, where she is the local principle investigator (PI) for 10 international collaborative trials in childhood leukaemia. She holds honorary post-doctoral appointments at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) as part of the broader Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium (VPCC) where she continues to study mechanisms of therapeutic resistance (collaborations with A/Prof Paul Ekert, A/Prof Meg Wall), understand toxicities of chemotherapy (collaborations with A/Prof Rachel Conyers) and HSCT (collaborations with A/Prof Gabrielle Haeusler, Dr Melanie Neeland, and A/Prof Theresa Cole) and build translational research into the use of novel therapeutics (including BH3-mimetics) to improve outcomes for children with poor prognosis acute leukaemias (collaborations with Prof David Ziegler and Dr Seong Lin Khaw).

Dr Lorna McLeman

Lorna is a paediatric oncology fellow in her final year of training at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. She commenced paediatric training in the UK in 2010 where she has worked at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and then Evelina Children’s Hospital, London. Lorna passed the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health examinations (MRCPCH) before moving to Australia in 2016. Since then, she has completed RACP paediatric board examination, and is near to completion of paediatric oncology specialist training. She has a special interest in bone marrow transplant and gene therapy and has a passion to become a paediatric oncology clinician scientist. Lorna is currently studying for her PhD with the University of Melbourne researching novel gene editing techniques to treat patients with Fanconi anaemia.

Project description
Fanconi anaemia is the most common inherited bone marrow failure syndrome with a 700-fold increased risk of developing cancer. The phenotypes of Fanconi anaemia are caused by a genetic deficiency in one of 23 known FANC genes that normally suppress cancer-causing mutations. Accumulation of DNA damage in blood stem cells cause bone marrow failure in children, which can be salvaged by bone marrow transplant. However, transplant has a high risk of death for patients with Fanconi anaemia due to toxic side effects of chemotherapy used in transplant preparation and acceleration of cancer onset. Lorna’s PhD project is based across St Vincent’s Institute Genome Stability Unit, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Blood Development Unit and The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne under expert supervision of A/Prof Andrew Deans, Prof Andrew Elefanty and A/Prof Rachel Conyers. She will be investigating novel gene editing techniques with the aim of correcting Fanconi anaemia-causing mutations. Gene editing is a therapeutic approach to cure the bone marrow failure of Fanconi anaemia without the damaging effects of bone marrow transplant. The goal of this work is to provide the basis for a gene editing clinical trial for patients with Fanconi anaemia in Australia.

Dr Lorna McLeman
Dr Claudia Toro

Dr Claudia Toro

Dr Claudia Toro is a paediatric oncologist who is an associate investigator on the Australian Cardio-Oncology Registry study at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne. She commenced her role at the RCH as the My Room Children’s Cancer Centre Clinical Research Fellow in February 2019 and joined the ACOR research team at that time. Dr Toro completed her medical degree at Flinders University in 2009.

Her passion for paediatric oncology led her to complete her training at the RCH, where she currently works as leukaemia/bone marrow transplant consultant. Her main interests are in supportive care and survivorship.

Project description
Recent advances in paediatric oncology have seen overall survival rates increase to over 85% for patients across the developed world. These improvements have led to a growing number of children now becoming long-term survivors. However, cancer therapy is not without consequence with many survivors developing long-term sequelae. One of the most significant causes of morbidity and mortality in survivors is cardiovascular disease. Currently, screening for cardiac dysfunction relies on the use of 2D echocardiography although novel approaches, such as the use of cardiac MRI, are emerging. The Extended Cardiac Evaluation Study (ECES), will aim to evaluate whether exercise and cardiac MRI can be used to uncover subclinical cardiotoxicity in paediatric oncology patients. Furthermore, through the work of the Australian Cardio-oncology Registry (ACOR), genetic variations that may predispose to cardiac dysfunction will be investigated.

Dr Stacie Wang

Dr Stacie Wang

Stacie Wang is a paediatric oncologist at the Children’s Cancer Centre, The Royal Children’s Hospital. Stacie grew up in Adelaide and moved to Melbourne for her medical studies at the University of Melbourne, obtaining her MBBS/BMedSci in 2009. She undertook basic paediatric training at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and Monash Children’s Hospital, prior to completing her fellowship in training in paediatric haematology/oncology at the RCH. During her fellowship, she cultivated a keen interest in immunotherapy, and became very interested in the concept of harnessing a patient’s own immune system to fight their own cancer. As a result, she undertook a PhD in immunotherapy at WEHI in 2018 and aims to become an active translational researcher and clinician-scientist in the future.

Project description
Stacie’s PhD focuses on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, a branch of immunotherapy Stacie’s PhD focuses on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, a branch of immunotherapy that engineers a patient’s T cells to be able to specifically recognise and kill the cancer cells in their body. CAR-T cell therapy has been extremely successful in leukaemia but applying this revolutionary ‘fourth pillar’ of cancer therapy to brain cancers has been less successful to date. Although survival rates for childhood cancers overall have markedly improved over recent decades, outcomes in paediatric brain tumours have lagged behind the dramatic gains achieved in blood cancers. Stacie is working on a novel CAR-T cell that aims to kill a specific type of paediatric brain tumour which currently has no cure, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).that engineers a patient’s T cells to be able to specifically recognise and kill the cancer cells in their body. CAR-T cell therapy has been extremely successful in leukaemia but applying this revolutionary ‘fourth pillar’ of cancer therapy to brain cancers has been less successful to date. Although survival rates for childhood cancers overall have markedly improved over recent decades, outcomes in paediatric brain tumours have lagged behind the dramatic gains achieved in blood cancers. Stacie is working on a novel CAR-T cell that aims to kill a specific type of paediatric brain tumour which currently has no cure, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).

Children's Cancer Institute Australia

Ms Chelsea Mayoh

Chelsea Mayoh

Chelsea Mayoh is a senior bioinformatician at the Children’s Cancer Institute and is also undertaking her PhD. Chelsea studied at the University of British Columbia in Canada and started working as a computational biologist at the Genome Sciences Centre in affiliation with the BC Cancer Agency before coming to Australia in 2015. She currently leads the bioinformatics team at CCI and is a key bioinformatician on the Zero Childhood Cancer program, having developed the pipelines for the transcriptome, methylome and in vitro drug response analysis. She is also currently undergoing her PhD part-time under the supervision of A/Prof Mark Cowley (computation biology team) and A/Prof Paul Ekert (translational biology team). Chelsea’s research interests are increasing the utility of bulk RNA-seq in precision medicine and the integration of multi-omics data for the identification of better targeted treatment options for high-risk paediatric patients.

Project description
Chelsea’s PhD focuses on the integration of whole genome sequencing (WGS), RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) and methylomics to identify targetable aberrations, molecular drivers, aid in the diagnosis and prognosis of disease, and exploring the immune microenvironment of high-risk paediatric patients in a precision medicine setting. Presently, precision medicine programs in paediatrics focus on the aberrations identified in either adult-based panels or from whole genome sequencing (WGS) and fusions from RNA-seq. However, expanding analysis beyond fusion detection in RNA-seq allows for the potential functional interpretation of the observed WGS aberrations and a deeper analysis into the transcriptome (ie alternate splicing events, aberrantly expressed genes, RNA specific point mutations) to identify additional actionable alterations. In addition, expanding the utility of bulk RNA-sequencing allows for exploration of the tumour microenvironment to identify immune-inflamed patients providing additional treatment options for these high-risk, high-need patients.

Andrea Zhao

Andrea is a current PhD candidate undertaking paediatric cancer research under A/Prof Paul Ekert’s supervision in the Translational Tumour Biology (TTB) group at Children’s Cancer Institute (CCIA). She graduated from a Bachelor of Medical Science with first-class honours at the University of Sydney in 2019. Her honours research project involved screening compounds in vitro in order to characterise drug-binding affinity and anti-cancer function against glioblastoma multiforme. After honours she became interested in pursuing a PhD in paediatric cancer research, based on her curiosity about paediatric cancer as well as the small number of studies available in comparison to adult cancers. Her interest in translational research led to joining TTB and acquiring a skill set in functional genomics.

Project description
The project will utilise CRISPR-Cas13b as a novel functional genomic tool to characterise aberrant fusion gene drivers in paediatric cancer. CRISPR-Cas13 is a new programmable RNA editing system with a higher target specificity than CRISPR-Cas9 and RNA interference systems. Unlike CRISPR-Cas9, the system is reversible with fewer off-target effects which ideally enables a more robust readout. The project will involve silencing oncogenic fusions with target-specific CRISPR-Cas13 guides. RNA sequencing and phosphoproteomics will be applied for a non-biased approach to driver characterisation and identification of novel molecular targets. Hit genes and proteins identified will be silenced with CRISPR-Cas13 in order to validate the gene dependency between the target and fusion driver. This system will serve as a widely applicable functional genomic tool to any oncogenic driver for characterisation and therapeutic development.

Ms Andrea Zhao

Monash Children's Hospital

Dr Nataliya Zhukova

Dr Nataliya Zhukova

Dr Nataliya Zhukova is an early career researcher in the Developmental and Cancer Biology lab, and a paediatric molecular oncology scientist for the Hudson Monash Paediatric Precision Medicine Program at Hudson Institute. Dr Zhukova holds an Adjunct Research Fellow appointment in the Department of Paediatrics, School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health, Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University, and is also a Paediatric Oncology Fellow at the Children’s Cancer Centre of the Monash Children’s Hospital. She was the recipient of a prestigious “My Room” Clinical Research Fellowship, awarded by the Children’s Cancer Foundation, which concluded in April 2022.

Dr Zhukova commenced a PhD in July 2022, with project title “Identification of molecular prognostic and therapy resistance signatures in paediatric sarcomas”. She has been awarded the Victorian Paediatric Cancer Consortium (VPCC) PhD Student Scholarship, sponsored by Monash University, to support her PhD. She has also been awarded an Early Career Practitioner Fellowship through the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health, Monash University, which also commenced in July 2022.

Dr Zhukova has a strong interest in paediatric CNS (central nervous system) and non-CNS cancers. Her interests focus on combining biological, clinical, and translational knowledge at the junction of paediatric oncology, molecular oncology and cancer genetics to study molecular markers to understand tumourigenesis, improve risk-stratification and develop novel therapies to maximise survival and decrease short- and long-term side-effects in this population.

Dr Zhukova completed her medical training at the Kharkiv National Medical University, Ukraine (2000). She earned her BSc (Hons) in Molecular Biology and Genetics (2008) followed by her Master’s Degree (2012) in Molecular Oncology and Cancer Genetics from the University of Toronto, Canada. During her Masters, under the supervision of Drs Uri Tabori and David Malkin, Dr Zhukova conducted a multicentre international study to establish a novel TP53-mutation-enriched subgroup of Sonic-Hedgehog medulloblastoma with poor prognosis, which has changed clinical practice internationally.

In late 2012, Dr Zhukova was granted a Clinician Scholar Award, funded by the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, to continue her clinical research training at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto with Dr Tabori, in the Genetics & Genome Biology Program of the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Brain Tumour Research Centre. There, during her Postdoctoral Fellowship, she focused on defining molecular subgroups of paediatric low-grade glioma and its implications on disease progression, tumour transformation, and therapeutic strategies. Her contribution to paediatric brain cancer research has been recognised by the Society of International Pediatric Oncology (SIOP), Young Investigator Award. Later, she extended her expertise into hypermutated cancers and biology of the biallelic mismatch repair deficiency (BMMRD) cancer predisposition syndrome though extensive clinical and research work with the BMMRD Consortium, led by Drs Uri Tabori and Eric Bouffet from the Hospital for Sick Children.

Dr Zhukova came to Australia in 2017 to expand her clinical expertise in paediatric malignancies and was a Clinical Fellow at The Royal Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Cancer Centre at Monash Children’s Hospital for two years prior being recruited by Hudson Institute in April 2019. Dr Zhukova has devoted her translational research career to improving outcomes for children with high risk cancer, with her scientific work resulting in many peer-reviewed high impact publications and contributing to a number of clinical trials, including targeted therapy studies.

Project description
Dr Zukhova is focused on combining biological, clinical, and translational knowledge at the junction of paediatric oncology, molecular oncology, and cancer genetics. She studies molecular and genetic markers to understand molecular determinants driving tumourogenesis to improve risk-stratification and allow for augment/decrease of therapies to maximize survival and decrease short- and long-term side-effects. Malignant brain and solid tumours are among the most common types of cancer in children and adolescents after leukemias with cure rates remaining poor despite multimodal therapies. There is a lack of reliable tests to predict which patients are likely to respond well to treatment, and which will not. In her research she is using next generation sequencing techniques, including DNA methylation-based classification, proteomics, and immune environment profiling to identify subgroups of patients who are likely to respond to standard of care therapies and those who are predicted to relapse and thus require different treatment approaches. Comprehensive genomic and molecular analysis of patients’ samples and tumour derived cell lines and xenografts, complemented with functional genomics, will allow for identification of gene target candidates for novel therapies. This then will transition to animal model testing and subsequently to clinical trials with the ultimate goal of improving patients’ outcomes.