Dr Tracy Leong

Dr Tracy Leong

Clinician Scientist, Tumour Immunology Laboratory

Dr Leong is the Director of Interventional Pulmonology at Austin Health in Melbourne and Respiratory Clinical Lead in Lung Cancer. She is a senior clinical lecturer in the University of Melbourne and is a Clinician Scientist at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, and is a founder of the TRACKER lung cancer biobank. She is the Chair of the Lung Cancer Working Party for the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, and Chair of the Early NSCLC Group in the Thoracic Oncology Group of Australasia. Her key interests are in optimisation of bronchoscopic lung cancer samples for translational research, and in the discovery of novel biomarkers and therapeutic approaches to overcome immunotherapy resistance.

Prof Sarah Ellis

A/Prof Sarah Ellis

Head, ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment (CTE)

An important and very enjoyable part of my role is listening to our researchers outline their projects and advising on the best ways in which our state-of-the-art microscopes can benefit them. I take immense pleasure in mentoring our enthusiastic students and talented researchers, supporting them with their research projects and proactively anticipating future needs.

I completed a Master of Science degree at the University of Melbourne before commencing work as a research technologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where I used histology, live cell imaging, transmission and scanning electron microscopy to investigate the life cycle of large platelet-producing megakaryocytes.

In 1999, I accepted the position as Head of the Centre for Advanced Histology and Microscopy (CAHM), a newly developed platform encompassing histology, optical and electron microscopy and image analysis. Alongside managing CAHM, I subsequently completed a PhD investigating the bone marrow niche of hematopoietic stem cells and, through successful NHMRC grant funding, led my research team exploring the role of polarity proteins in AML and T-ALL.

I joined the ONJCRI in 2020 to consolidate and grow the Microscopy Platform as Head of the ACRF Centre for Imaging the Tumour Environment (CITE).

Prof Marco Herold

Prof Marco Herold

Chief Executive Officer, ONJCRI
Head, Genome Engineering and Cancer Modelling Program
Head, Blood Cancer and Immunotherapy Lab
Head, La Trobe University’s School of Cancer Medicine

My vision at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute is to improve treatments and outcomes for cancer patients.

I am excited to lead our staff and students and ensure our people are collaboratively striving to make ground-breaking discoveries that can be translated into the clinic that will benefit cancer patients and deliver maximum benefit to the community.

I am a NHMRC L2 Investigator, an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and a former Broomhead Centenary Fellow.

I completed my PhD and first postdoctoral studies at the University of Würzburg, Germany, where I trained in cell death research and mouse genetics. During this time, I worked with the German Pharma Company Taconic Artemis developing methods to establish novel pre-clinical models of disease.

In 2008, I moved to Australia and joined the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) where I served as a Laboratory Head in the Blood Cells and Blood Cancer Division and Head of the Melbourne Genome Editing Centre (MAGEC). My research team specialised in applying CRISPR gene editing techniques to identify critical gene targets required for the development and sustained growth of cancer cells. Recent findings identified DNA repair as fundamental for TP53-mediated tumour suppression (Janic et al., Nature Medicine 2018).

My current research is focused on using advanced genome wide CRISPR screening, including gene activation and base editing in vitro and in vivo (Deng et al., Nature Communications, 2022). At ONJCRI we use these research techniques to amplify the research conducted within all our labs to discover drug resistance factors and targets that enhance immune therapies.

Since joining ONJCRI in 2023, my primary role as CEO of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) is to steer our Institute towards a new phase of growth and impact by achieving our strategic priorities. This includes fostering collaborations both within ONJCRI and with external entities while capitalising on existing strengths, assets, and successes of ONJCRI.

Dr Moritz Eissmann

Dr Moritz Eissmann

Head, Cytokine and Cancer Signalling Group

My research utilizes novel cancer models to understand mechanisms of communication between immune cells and cancer cells to help improve immunotherapy treatments for advanced gastric and colorectal cancer patients.

After receiving my PhD in the field of Pharmaceutical Science, from the Goethe University (Frankfurt Germany), I performed my post-doctoral research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research (WEHI) (2012-2014) and at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (from 2015).

I am currently Head of the newly formed Cytokine and Cancer Signalling Group at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute.

I am a Victorian Cancer Agency (Mid-Career) Fellow and recipient of the AACR-Debbie’s Dream Foundation’s Gastric Cancer Research Award. My research discovered the tumour promoting role of cytokine IL33 in gastric cancer (Nat Com 2019) and I have developed new gastric cancer models, which enable testing of novel immunotherapies against gastric cancer.

My team’s research focuses on understanding the cytokine signalling that drives the crosstalk between the cancer cells and the tumour microenvironment in gastric and colorectal cancer. We continue to establish novel cancer models, including cancer organoids and employ those models to investigate the role of IL33/ST2 as well as IL6/IL11/STAT3 signalling in shaping the tumour microenvironment. We study their impact on cancer progression, metastasis formation and (immune) therapy responses.

Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar

Dr Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar

Head, Tissue and Tumour Immunity laboratory

I investigate the immune ecosystem of tissues and tumours to discover mechanisms that could be targeted to revert immune suppression for the treatment of solid tumours.

I am a NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow and Head of the Tissue and Tumour Immunity Laboratory. I have honorary appointments at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University. After obtaining my PhD in Biotechnology, I took up postdoctoral studies in immunology initially at the Burnet Institute, Melbourne and subsequently at WEHI and Peter Doherty Institute, Melbourne. During my postdoctoral stint, I made several landmark discoveries that revealed the tissue adaptation mechanisms of regulatory T cells (Vasanthakumar et al, Nature 2020; Vasanthakumar et al, Nature Immunology 2015).

My current work aims to understand the homeostatic requirements of regulatory T cells in different solid tumours and their crosstalk with stromal cells. The overarching theme of my research program in ONJCRI is to uncover the mechanistic underpinnings of immune suppression in tumours. My laboratory is supported by funding from NHMRC and Cancer Council Victoria.

Prof Wei Shi

Prof Wei Shi

Head, Bioinformatics and Cancer Genomics Laboratory

Prof Shi received his PhD in Computer Science from Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin, China in 2000. After postdoctoral training at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, he moved to Australia to take up a research fellow position at Deakin University in 2003. In 2006, he made a career transition to bioinformatics and joined the Bioinformatics Division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. He was appointed as a Laboratory Head at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in 2016. In 2020, he was recruited to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute to establish and lead the bioinformatics program.

Professor Shi has developed bioinformatics methods that have been widely adopted in the field. He is internationally recognized as an expert in developing methods for quantifying RNA-seq gene expression data. He has a career citation of >32,000. He was a Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher in both 2020 and 2018 (Clarivate Analytics), being recognized as one of the most cited researchers in the world.

Professor’s Shi’s research focuses on developing cutting-edge bioinformatics tools for the mapping and quantification of single-cell and bulk RNA-seq data, detection of alternative splicing of genes, discovery of structural variants and gene fusions in cancer genome, chromatin accessibility analysis, transcription factor binding analysis and machine learning method for predicting patient outcome.

His lab has developed the Rsubread/Subread toolbox that includes Subread/Subjunc aligner, featureCounts quantification program, cellCounts single-cell RNA-seq quantification program and other bioinformatics tools. Rsubread/Subread can be accessed via Bioconductor, SourceForge and GitHub.

He also has a strong interest in using genomics data to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of cancer and immune diseases. He collaborates widely with many labs and groups at the ONJCRI and other institutes.

Prof Andrew Scott AM

Prof Andrew Scott AM

Head, Tumour Targeting Program
Head, Tumour Targeting Laboratory
Co-Director, Centre for Research Excellence in Brain Cancer
Director, Department Of Molecular Imaging And Therapy, Austin Health

Throughout my research career as a translational clinician-scientist, I have had an abiding interest in the mechanisms of tumour cell growth, as well as the development of innovative strategies to improve diagnosis and therapy for cancer patients.

My major research focus areas have been in defining and characterising antigen and receptor targets for cancer therapy, signaling and metabolic pathways in cancer cells, antibody-based therapy and immune regulation of tumours, and molecular imaging of cancer.

I have developed a program to translate our laboratory discoveries to use in the clinic, which has so far led to ten novel antibodies and recombinant proteins progressing successfully through first-in-human, Phase I and II cancer trials. This program has delivered 21 patents and the licensing of seven discoveries to Pharma and Biotech.

I have published more than 360 peer-reviewed papers and 22 book chapters, principally in the areas of oncology and molecular imaging. I have been invited to publish reviews in leading journals including Nature Reviews Cancer, Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology and Cancer Research.

I am actively involved in the training and mentoring of young scientists and clinicians, and am currently supervising several doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and nuclear medicine trainees.

Another focus of my work is strategic planning for training, health care policy, and molecular imaging and nuclear medicine therapy advocacy within the US, European, South American, Asia-Oceania, and African regions, as well as with the IAEA and WHO. I am former president of the World Federation of Nuclear Medicine and Biology, the peak global nuclear medicine organisation.

My national leadership roles include being a founding board member and the current chair of Cancer Trials Australia, as well as a board member of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) since 2007. I also participate in policy and governance activities with the Australian Government.

Dr Bhupinder Pal

Dr Bhupinder Pal

Head, Cancer Single Cell Genomics Laboratory

My team is committed to translating research findings into diagnostic tools and effective personalised cancer treatments.

I received a PhD degree from the University of Melbourne in 2009 and pursued postdoctoral training at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne. During this time, I gained experience and recognition in the field of mammary gland biology, breast cancer and single cell genomics. In 2018, I joined the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI). My research team focuses on understanding the role of tumour heterogeneity and microenvironment during cancer progression and metastasis. We apply molecular techniques that allow epigenetic, transcriptomic and spatial expression analysis at single cell level. These novel molecular insights will enable the designing of new and improved treatments for cancer patients.

Dr Lisa Mielke

Dr Lisa Mielke

Head, Mucosal Immunity and Cancer Laboratory

I am inspired by the complex immune cell networks which exist in the intestine and I strive every day to unlock the potential of harnessing immune cells to enhance the killing of tumour cells. 

I am a Victorian Cancer Agency Fellow and Head of the Mucosal Immunity and Cancer Laboratory. I have honorary appointments at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), the University of Melbourne, and La Trobe University. I am also an expert in immune cell biology in intestinal homeostasis and gastrointestinal cancers. I obtained my PhD from the National Institutes of Health, USA, in 2009, before performing my postdoctoral studies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and WEHI in Melbourne.

I led numerous studies during this time, which revealed correlations between our diet and the transcriptional regulation of intestinal innate lymphoid cell (ILC) and gd T cell populations. These studies opened up an exciting new frontier of research in the field of mucosal immunology, which underpins my current work studying the role of these cells in gastrointestinal cancers.

A/Prof Delphine Merino

A/Prof Delphine Merino

Head, Tumour Progression And Heterogeneity Laboratory

The ONJ Cancer Centre is an extremely stimulating environment where patients, scientists, nurses and clinicians are working together towards the same objective – improving patients’ health and wellness. 

I am fascinated by the mechanisms driving the life/death switch in cells. Cancer cells are particularly resistant to cell death, which allows them to invade different parts of the body, survive the attack of the immune system, and resist various treatments. The challenge for us as scientists is to find a drug which, when administered at the right dose, will kill cancer cells, without affecting normal cells.

My laboratory is focused on breast cancer metastasis. My team is trying to identify, within patients’ tumours, the cells which will escape, survive in the lymphatic or blood system, and successfully colonise distant organs. Our aim is to then identify the biological features of the cells which are most likely to form clinically relevant macro-metastasis. We want to understand how these cells interact with their microenvironment and whether they differ between different metastatic sites.

Ultimately, our objective is to identify which drugs should be used to target cells responsible for tumour recurrence, at local or distant sites, to stop the invasion, release the pain associated with their growth, and improve the outcomes of patients with breast cancer.

It will also be important to find a way to predict which women will respond best to these therapies and I am particularly interested in using liquid biopsies to achieve this aim.