Digestive cancers, including bowel, oesophageal, stomach and pancreas cancer, collectively are the commonest cause of cancer death in Australia. Our research is focused on supportive cells, known as cancer-associated fibroblasts. Digestive cancers exploit normal surrounding cells to help promote their growth and spread. We generate experimental cancer models in the laboratory as well as analyse human samples to ask where cancer-associated fibroblasts come from, what do they do and how can they be stopped?
What we aim to achieve
We hope that identifying new stromal treatments (i.e. by targeting the supporting cells) will result in stromal-directed therapies being used with other chemotherapeutics to help stop cancer growth and spread. We have learnt from other complex diseases that therapies are often more efficacious when one targets several different mechanisms at once. We believe that by targeting the stroma we will enhance the benefit of existing treatments, particularly in managing the cancer cells most resistant to traditional agents.
What are the next steps and milestones for your research?
My lab has only just started. The key milestones for my research in the next 12 months are: 1. Generate 4 new mouse lines 2. Start our program of mouse colonoscopy 3. Establish our new lab space within SAHMRI 4. Attract NHMRC project and fellowship funding 5. Finalize our major project, currently under review at Cell (which is critical to aim for).
What motivates you to pursue cancer research?
The opportunity to be creative. Medical science, as opposed to medical practice, provides great freedom to directly develop and test new ideas, tools, and therapies. Cancer research in particular, because it is hard. It is so difficult that it begs to be tackled. My patients and loved ones that have, and will, suffer from cancer.
My message to supporters:
We love our job. Being a physician-scientist involved in cancer research is fascinating and thrilling. But, we never lose sight of our mission, which is no less than to cure cancer. It is a high bar, but the only relevant arbiter of success. We work hard to develop new ways to achieve this both incrementally as well as, when possible, through major advances. My team and I are enormously grateful for your support, and we understand our responsibility to you all. Thank you.