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.

Dr Chun Yew Fong

Dr Chun Yew Fong

Clinician Scientist
Acute Leukaemia and Myelodysplasia Lead, Austin Health

Acute leukaemia and myelodysplasia are amongst the most aggressive cancers that we treat. I am passionate about improving the lives of patients dealing with these life-changing cancers through the implementation of new technologies and novel treatments, whilst also delivering compassionate clinical care.

I am a clinical haematologist and the Medical Lead for Acute Leukaemias and Myelodysplasia at the Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre, which is based at Austin Health. I share a dual role within ONJCRI as a Clinician Scientist Fellow and am also the Myeloid/Acute Leukaemia Tumour Group Chair for Clinical Trials Australia.

My current role focuses on the implementation of new technologies in translational research and novel therapeutic approaches in the clinic. In particular, I am the lead investigator on clinical trials exploring the implementation of epigenetic-targeted therapies in acute leukaemia. I am also involved in developing next generation sequencing technologies for routine clinical use in tracking minimal residual disease in leukaemia patients.

Following completion of dual physician and pathology clinical training in Melbourne, I embarked upon scientific training at Cambridge University and completed a PhD at Melbourne University which investigated epigenetic therapies. I have been intimately involved in the pre-clinical and clinical development of BET inhibitors and have been published in Nature, Blood, Leukemia & Lymphoma.

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.

Prof John Mariadason

Prof John Mariadason

Head, Gastrointestinal Cancers Program
Head, Oncogenic Transcription Laboratory

The ongoing objective of my work is to identify new and more effective treatments for patients affected by cancers of the colon, stomach and biliary tract.

I moved to New York to do my postdoctoral training at the Montefiore Medical Center – Albert Einstein College of Medicine where I investigated the role of Wnt signaling in colon cancer progression and the use of gene expression profiling for predicting response of colon cancer cells to chemotherapy.

I established my independent laboratory at Albert Einstein in 2001 as Assistant Professor of Medicine and was appointed Associate Professor of Medicine in 2008. I returned home to Melbourne in 2008, joining the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research as Head of the Oncogenic Transcription Laboratory.

My research continues to be focused on the identification of new treatments for colon cancer, gastric cancer and cancers of biliary tract.

A/Prof Peter Janes

A/Prof Peter Janes

Head, Receptor Biology Laboratory

I am interested in how our bodies function at a cellular level, and how normal developmental processes can become hijacked by tumours – in particular, how key proteins which drive cancer development can be identified and targeted in an effort to specifically kill tumour cells and avoid harmful side-effects.

I focus on cell surface receptors and associated proteins, which are more prominent in tumours than in normal tissues, to develop antibodies which will bind with or block these proteins. I completed my PhD studies on HER/erbB receptors in breast cancer, followed by postdoctoral positions at the National Institute for Medical Research, London, and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne. I worked with the late Martin Lackmann at Monash University and I am continuing with the research focus I started there in my role in the Tumour Targeting Program at the ONJCRI.

A/Prof Doug Fairlie

A/Prof Doug Fairlie

Head, Cell Death And Survival Laboratory

I am especially excited about making discoveries in fundamental molecular and cellular processes, and subsequently translating these findings into the development of new treatment strategies which will ultimately benefit cancer patients.

I obtained my PhD in Biochemistry from Monash University in 1994. After a postdoctoral stint in the US at the State University of New York, Buffalo, I returned to Australia in 1996 to work at the Centre for Immunology, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, where I was the lead protein chemist on projects involving TGF-b-related cytokines and a novel intracellular ion channel.

In 2001, I joined the Cancer and Haematology Division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) to continue work on cytokines, including IL-6 family members. In 2003, I moved to the Structural Biology Division at WEHI, where I commenced working on cell death and survival mechanisms, and was promoted to a laboratory head in 2010.

Since joining the ONJCRI in 2015, I have focused on understanding how cell death is regulated in melanoma and am currently working with colleagues at WEHI to develop new drugs which target the apoptosis pathways in these and other tumours. My work is funded through grants from NHMRC, Cancer Council Victoria and Worldwide Cancer Research, UK.