Our research programs focus on developing treatments for a range of cancers including breast, bowel and gastrointestinal tract, liver, lung, skin and brain cancer.

CANCER AND INFLAMMATION PROGRAM

Program Head: Prof Matthias Ernst

Understanding how normal cells in the body can become corrupted by tumour cells is critical in order to stop the growth and spreading of cancers.

Many of the molecular processes that cancer cells use to communicate with normal cells also play important roles during wound-healing.

Therefore, cancer cells often hijack some of these mechanisms in order to survive, grow, obtain a steady stream of nutrients and develop resistance to treatment.

Our Cancer and Inflammation Program aims to better understand how cancer cells and normal cells communicate with each other within the tumour environment.

If we can disrupt these lines of communication, cancer cells will be more vulnerable as they become less supported by the normal cells in their vicinity.

Importantly, this strategy may also help make tumour cells more visible to immune cells and therefore more vulnerable to treatment with contemporary immune-based therapies.

While the activities of our Program focus primarily on cancers of the bowel, stomach and breast, many of these molecular communication mechanisms are also found in other solid tumours.

Therefore, the insights gained from our research could ultimately be translated to many different solid malignancies.

Find out more about the Laboratory and Groups within the Cancer and Inflammation Program:

Cancer and Inflammation Laboratory Prof Matthias ErnstTumour Microenvironment and Cancer Signaling Group Dr Michael BuchertCancer Therapeutics Development Group Dr Ashwini Chand

CANCER IMMUNOBIOLOGY PROGRAM

Program Head: Prof Jonathan Cebon

Research from the Cancer Immunobiology Program is producing life-saving results by better understanding the role of the immune system in cancer treatment.

Our researchers are harnessing the power of the body’s immune system to treat cancer by performing clinical trials with drugs which stimulate immune responses.

We are also developing diagnostic tests to better select patients for immunotherapy, and predict and manage auto-immune side effects.

Both cancer and the immune system change with time – indeed they can shape each other. As immunity attacks, the cancer can adapt and escape immune recognition.

The cancer can also interfere with immune system cells in a variety of ways.

We are particularly interested in understanding the targets which the immune system recognises, and how both cancer and immunity co-evolve, to allow us to discover new therapeutic targets.

Find out more about the laboratories  within the Cancer Immunobiology Program:

Tumour Immunology Laboratory Dr Andreas BehrenMucosal Immunity and Cancer Laboratory Dr Lisa Mielke

GASTROINTESTINAL CANCERS PROGRAM

Program Head: Prof John Mariadason

Our Gastrointestinal Cancer Program team investigates the biological causes of cancers of the colon (bowel), biliary tract and stomach, to develop new treatments for patients affected by these diseases. We are particularly focused on identifying and targeting major proteins that enable tumour cells to survive in the body, and are testing whether drugs which work in other cancers can be re-purposed for treatment of gastrointestinal cancers.

Within this program we are investigating the molecular mechanisms which disturb cellular differentiation, proliferation and survival, and cause or perpetuate cancer. Our research focuses on transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms, and also aims to discover biomarkers to better tailor therapies to cancer patients.

We want to understand the biological causes of cancers of the colon (bowel), biliary tract and stomach so that new treatments can be developed. We also aim to identify and target the major “pro-survival” proteins in these tumours and are testing if drugs that target the “epigenome” can prevent the growth and spread of these cancers.

Find out more about the laboratories within the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program:

Oncogenic Transcription Laboratory Prof John MariadasonCell Death and Survival Laboratory A/Prof Doug Fairlie

TRANSLATIONAL BREAST CANCER PROGRAM

Program Head: Prof Robin Anderson

The Translational Breast Cancer Program focuses on reducing breast cancer deaths that are caused mainly by the spread of the disease to other organs – a process called metastasis.

We are seeking a mechanistic understanding of how cells leave the primary breast tumour and travel to tissues such as the lung or bone and establish as secondary tumours. We track cancer cells as they move through the bloodstream, identifying the cancer cells with the greatest ability to form a secondary tumour. We investigate how they adapt to growth in their new environments, such as bone or lung or brain, relying on support from normal cells in their new home.  The genes that we have identified as controlling these events are now targets for therapies that we are developing to inhibit the growth of secondary breast cancer.

TUMOUR TARGETING PROGRAM

Program Head: Prof Andrew Scott AM

The Tumour Targeting Program focuses on the targeting, molecular imaging and treatment of tumours, as well as defining receptor-based signaling pathways responsible for cancer cell growth, and to uncover mechanisms that result in resistance to targeted therapies.

Our program also aims to identify novel targets for cancer drug development which are suited for antibody-based therapy and visualisation of cancer cells. Through sophisticated protein engineering and molecular imaging techniques, novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to a range of cancers are being developed, and extended into clinical studies in cancer patients.

Find out more about the laboratories and groups within the Tumour Targeting Program:

Tumour Targeting Laboratory Prof Andrew Scott AMReceptor Biology Laboratory A/Prof Peter Janes

CENTRE FOR RESEARCH EXCELLENCE IN BRAIN CANCER

The Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) in Brain Cancer was established through $2 Million funding from the Victorian Cancer Agency. Led by Professors Andrew Scott AM and Hui Gan, the CRE is aimed to develop innovative approaches for diagnosing and treating brain cancers, and to take new discoveries into clinical trials in brain cancer patients.

The principal research themes of the CRE in Brain Cancer are:

  1. Developing novel imaging probes: to assist with improved diagnosis and prognostication, better treatment selection and more accurate assessment of
  2. Developing new molecular assays: for better characterisation of brain cancers, leading to improved decision making and selecting the most appropriate treatment for patients.
  3. Developing new drugs and approaches to treatment, which will result in improved responses and survival in brain cancer patients.

This research utilised our access within the ONJCRI, and through collaborations in Australia and internationally, to cutting edge research platforms in genomics, immunology, brain cancer model systems, molecular imaging, and therapeutics development. Our collaborators include the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) brain tumour group, the Cooperative Trials Group For Neuro-Oncology (COGNO), the Australasian Radiopharmaceutical Clinical Trials Network (ARTnet), and the Glioma Longitudinal Analysis (GLASS) Consortium.

In addition to the scientific and clinical aims of the CRE in Brain Cancer, education and training are key components of the overall program.

The Centre is co-led by Prof Andrew Scott AM and Prof Hui Gan

BIOINFORMATICS AND CANCER GENOMICS LABORATORY

The Bioinformatics and Cancer Genomics (BCG) Laboratory was recently established to support the bioinformatics needs at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute. The BCG Laboratory is internationally recognised as a leading group in developing state-of-the-art bioinformatics tools for analysing genomics data including next-generation and third-generation sequencing data.

Our Laboratory’s research themes include:

  1. Map and quantify expression data generated from single-cell and bulk RNA sequencing
  2. Discover genomic mutations including structural variants in cancer genomes
  3. Use genomics data to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying development of cancer and immune diseases
  4. Use machine learning algorithm to predict the prognosis and drug response of various types of cancer

Our team collaborates with many laboratories and groups at ONJCRI. We also collaborate with laboratories from other institutes including Doherty Institute, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Diamantina Institute and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. We also collaborates with clinicians from various hospitals.

Our team also provides bioinformatics consultations and workshop training to students and staff at the ONJCRI.

The BCG Laboratory is led by Prof Wei Shi