The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) has been awarded more than $4 million in this year’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grant Scheme, announced this week by the Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt.

The money will be used to fund research into lung cancer, colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, antibody therapies and immunotherapies.

We are incredibly proud of our researchers. For the third year running, they have had a 25% success rate in securing NHMRC grants, against a national average of 16.4%.  It speaks to the quality of work conducted at ONJCRI, and the recognition of this work among our peers.


Associate Professor Alexander Dobrovic, ‘Using chromosome rearrangements as tumour-specific markers for disease monitoring in lung cancer using droplet digital PCR’, $1,081,334.80

There are no useful markers, apart from CT scans, to determine the effectiveness of therapy in patients with lung cancer. This study will assess highly sensitive methods based on liquid biopsies and whole genome sequencing that can monitor the blood to determine whether DNA from the patient’s tumour is present. This will allow clinicians to modify therapies to better manage the cancer.

Dr Amardeep Dhillon, ‘Transcriptional Effectors of Oncogenic ERK Signaling in Colorectal Cancer’, $820,776

This project aims to unravel how one of the most frequently deregulated molecular pathways in colorectal cancer controls the expression of genes required for these tumours to grow and spread. The research team expects to uncover novel therapeutic targets to effectively inactivate this pathway and biomarkers to select patients most likely to benefit from existing therapies.

Dr Michael Buchert, ‘Exploiting the cross talk between Tuft cells and group 2 innate lymphoid cells for tissue homeostasis and disease’, $831,162

The project investigates the cell-to-cell communication between rare epithelial cells called tuft cells and group 2 innate lymphoid cells (ILC2) whose role is to protect the stomach from infections with parasites. Surprisingly however, in the context of chronic inflammation of the stomach, called gastritis, and during early stages of stomach cancer the abundance of these two cell types dramatically increases but by interrupting their line of the communication, inflammation and cancer progression can be partially alleviated and reversed.  The aim of this project is to identify the mechanisms by which the communication between tuft cells and ILC2s is hijacked to promote gastric disease and this knowledge may help to develop strategies to combat stomach cancer.

Prof Andrew Scott, ‘Alpha Particle Therapy of Solid Tumours’, $715,005

Antibody therapeutics are achieving major clinical success in a range of cancers, however many patients do not respond to this type of treatment or eventually become unresponsive. This project will explore the use of potent alpha particles linked to antibodies that target tumours throughout the body, thus creating a new approach to treating advanced cancer.


Dr Eliza Hawkes, ‘Biomarker-driven applications of immunotherapy in lymphoma’, $189,384

Lymphoma is the sixth most common cancer. Most patients who are diagnosed with lymphoma are aged over 50 and between 30 and 50 per cent will die from the disease. Immunotherapy has emerged as a possible new treatment for lymphoma. Based at the world-renowned Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Dr Eliza Hawkes will conduct a series of trials to evaluate the use of immunotherapy in lymphoma and develop better use of immunotherapy strategies for treating three key lymphoma subtypes.

Dr Miles Andrews, ‘Deriving actionable strategies to enhance cancer immunotherapy response’, $438,768

Many cancer treatment outcomes have improved in recent years with the development of effective anti-cancer immunotherapy. However, an overwhelming majority of patients are yet to benefit from this form of treatment. A better understanding of the reasons why not all cancer patients respond to immunotherapy is needed in order to extend the benefits to a greater number of patients. Dr Miles Andrews will investigate several distinct aspects of anti-tumour immunity to identify new biomarkers and ways to improve therapeutic options involving these anti-cancer agents.