Dr Ian Luk, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the ONJCRI’s Oncogenic Transcription Laboratory has been awarded a two-year fellowship to develop mouse models of biliary cancer for drug testing.


The biliary tract is a system of organs and ducts required for the transport of bile produced by the liver, forming an important part of our digestive system. Cancer of the biliary tract is rare but aggressive, and for the most part patients diagnosed with this type of cancer respond poorly to conventional treatments.

“Biliary cancer is most common in Southeast Asian countries however, the incidence for this disease has been steadily growing in Australia and westernised countries for reasons currently unknown,” says Dr Luk.

“Biliary cancer is a particularly challenging disease to study due to its relatively low incidence and because most patients who present with biliary cancer do so in its late stages with inoperable disease, therefore limiting access to patient samples. A further limitation is the lack of genetically defined animal models where researchers can test novel drugs and drug combinations, to assess efficacy and safety in order to inform clinical trials.”

Dr Luk is hoping to change this after recently being awarded the Smith-Barrett Fellowship from Pancare Foundation. The two-year fellowship will allow Dr Luk to develop a series of genetically defined mouse models of biliary cancer mimicking human disease.

“Developing robust animal models of the disease remains our best opportunity to identify and test new treatments for biliary tumours. From these models, we are able to generate tumour organoids which can be grown, expanded and re-implanted into mice to facilitate the discovery of novel therapies and therapeutic combinations that can be translated into clinical trials, which are urgently needed to improve outcomes for patients with biliary cancer,” explains Dr Luk.

The ONJCRI group has extensive expertise in establishing mouse models. After successfully establishing tumour organoids from a series of mouse colon tumour models, they now plan to use this expertise to develop mouse biliary tumour models that will then be used by the wider research community that they hope will make a difference to patient outcomes.

“Outcomes for patients with advanced biliary cancer has only seen minimal improvement in the past 2 decades, with median survival remaining unacceptably low at only 12 months. There is an urgent need to develop new treatments for these patients and we hope that developing these models is the first step in making a significant difference in this area.”