Current members

Whole CTC research team working with Therese Becker (as Dec 2017):   Top(left to right): Andre Franken, Vinay Murthy, Joseph Po, David Lynch  Bottom (left to right): Yafeng Ma, Casey Borthwick, Sarah Jeffreys, Therese Becker, Pei Ding

Whole CTC research team working with Therese Becker (as Dec 2017):

Top(left to right): Andre Franken, Vinay Murthy, Joseph Po, David Lynch

Bottom (left to right): Yafeng Ma, Casey Borthwick, Sarah Jeffreys, Therese Becker, Pei Ding

Prof. Paul de souza

The idea to establish the CCDR was conceived by Prof de Souza, who is a medical oncologist dedicated to treat his cancer patients with the best possible therapy. He was the founding Professor of Medical Oncology at WSU and currently is the leader of Medical Oncology Research Team at the Ingham Institute. He has also held/is holding various leading clinical positions with Liverpool Hospital and private hospitals including currently St George Private, while recently widening his work to the University of Wollongong where he is now Dean of Medicine. Prof de Souza also was the Director of the Cancer Institute NSW funded Centre for Oncology Education and Research Translation (CONCERT) for many years and is a leader in conducting clinical trials of promising drugs in the therapy of a number of cancers. The recently opened Phase I Clinical Trials Unit in Liverpool has largely been realised due to his foresight. He is a strong believer and supporter of the collaboration of expert scientists with clinical researchers to achieve the best translation of state of the art research into real life patient benefit. The CCDR remains central to his research interests. 

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A/Prof Therese Becker

was in 2013 attracted to the Ingham Institute to establish the CCDR. She brought her expertise as molecular biologist and medical researcher to drive research that translates into patient benefit. She originally finished her BSc (Hons) degree in Germany, Universities of Ulm and Bonn, and has contributed to recent advances in melanoma research during her PhD and postdoc in Australia. In the CCDR she drives the establishment of highly sensitive, accurate tests for personal cancer characteristics, “biomarkers”, from simple blood samples and supervises projects into various solid cancers. “Our tests already help to decide which patients are more likely to respond to novel drugs in clinical trials.” She is also interested in studying CTCs for their role in metastasis (cancers spreading to distant organs) and in monitoring how well a patient responds to treatment using blood biopsies. “I believe our work will be an important part to realise far better cancer treatment within the next 2-10 years.” A/Prof Becker’s position is funded through the Cancer Institute NSW / CONCERT. Therese has senior- or co-authored a range of CCDR publications and is a regularly invited speaker in other institutions or at meetings to present CCDR data.

Dr Yafeng Ma

is a scientist with expertise accumulated during her education and postdoc in China, the Netherlands and the UK. She is central to a number of projects undertaken in the CCDR and has contributed to the supervision of students and staff. She has specific interest in prostate cancer and is first author on one CCDR research manuscript and co-authored another. “This work is very interesting as our findings are close to the clinics and are already used in association with some clinical trials.” Dr Ma’s position is funded through the Cancer Institute NSW / CONCERT and Medical Oncology Trust Fund contributions.

 Dr Branka POWTER

is a scientist and molecular biologist. She is interested in liquid biopsies (CTCs/ctNA/exosomes) in brain cancer. “Liquid biopsies are challenging in this cancer due the blood brain barrier preventing large number of CTCs to be released or high ctNA concentration, but there is an urgent need for tumor biomarker information in this cancer as a lot of patients can not have surgery for tissue biosies.” Dr Powter’s position is funded through a SPHERE CAG Brain Cancer project grant.

Ms Tanzila Khan

is a scientist who is aiming to analyse CTCs from advanced prostate cancer patients in her PhD project to unravel the mechanisms of cancer resistance to therapy. "Ultimately my research will identify patients that no longer respond to common therapy. Since my analysis also pinpoints why the cancer no longer responds it will point the way for the best follow-up treatment to extend life of patients".

Ms Heena Sareen

is a scientist who is aiming to analyse liquid biopsies from brain cancer patients in her PhD project to find better markers that predict survival and response to therapy. "Ultimately my research will improve how brain cancer patients can be treated".

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Ms Sarah Jeffreys

is a scientist who initially studied at the University of Tasmania and joined the CCDR as PhD student in 2017 to investigate biomarkers in CTCs of breast cancer patients failing to respond to aromatase inhibitors. Sarah is setting up a number of tests that ultimately are aimed to detect if and why a patient may no longer respond to therapy and how patient management should best be adapted. Part of her work is in collaboration with a German research team in Düsseldorf to find new biomarkers in breast cancer. “It is good to see how cancer researchers from around the world can combine their expertise to help making steps towards the best cancer therapy; even better to be a part of it!” Sarah is funded by an Ingham Institute PhD Scholarship, kindly donated by the Liverpool Catholic Club towards her PhD project.

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Dr Pei Ding

is a medical oncologist and PhD student interested in a group of lung cancer patients that carry a specific biomarker (EGFR mutations) predicting response to targeted EGFR-inhibitor therapy. However, generally good response to these drugs is usually only achieved for 6-18 month and Pei wants to be able to detect new biomarkers that arise in these patient’s cancers and make the cancer fail therapy. There are currently new drugs in clinical trials that will help some patient that have a specific “therapy failure biomarker” and more advances are expected to be made with better treatment for patients whose cancer carries other biomarkers in the future. “In lung cancer liquid biopsies (analysis of cancer biomarkers in blood samples) is now part of clinical decision making. It is great to think my PhD work is part of proving that liquid biopsies are useful in the clinic.” Pei is funded by an Australian Postgraduate Scholarship through WSU and also receives a top up scholarship through CONCERT. Dr Tara Roberts a close CCDR collaborator is Pei’s main supervisor and A/Prof Becker is on Pei’s co-supervisory team. Dr Ding first authored one research manuscript with the CCDR and other clinical research papers.

Mr Vinay Murthy

has just started (Dec 2017) his WSU Embedded Honours project with the Ingham Institute’s CCDR. His interest is in analysing melanoma patient CTCs and blood based immune cells for biomarkers that may predict response to immunotherapy. This is an important project as excitingly about 30% of melanoma patient’s cancers show lasting responses to novel immunotherapies, but these therapies have side effects and therefore being able to predict which patients will benefit from treatment is important . “This promises to be a clinically important project in a great research team.”

 

Mr Jason Luo

Has just started (Feb 2019) his BSc Honours (Med) project with the Ingham Institute’s CCDR. His interest is in detecting DNA damage repair in life CTCs to potentially develop and assay that could predict patient response to radiation and DNA damaging chemotherapy.


Alumni & Collaborators

Dr Tony Pang

is a gastric surgeon and PhD student. His PhD project is conducted in the Pancreatic Cancer Research Group at the Ingham Institute, UNSW under supervision of Prof Minoti Apte. A/Prof Becker and Prof Jeremy Wilson are co-supervisors of his project that investigates whether other cells in the pancreas support pancreatic cancer cells and their spread to other organs (metastasis). As such he studies not only pancreatic cancer CTCs but has also shown that normal pancreatic stellate cells can be found in circulation, confirming previous work from Prof Apte’s group showing that these normal pancreatic stellate cell can be detected in distant metastases. Tony is funded by an Australian Postgraduate Scholarship through UNSW and also receives a top up scholarship through CONCERT.Dr Pang has already published a first author review on his study area with the CCDR and many other clinical research manuscripts.

Dr Daniel Brungs

is a medical oncologist and completed his PhD candidature with the University of Wollongong supervised by Prof Marie Ranson. A/Prof Becker was as a co-supervisor on his supervisor team. Daniel is now a research group leader and continues to collaborate with the CCDR. His PhD looked into CTCs as biomarkers in gastric cancer and he grew (“cultured”) CTCs from patient blood samples in the laboratory to test which drugs may be effective in the patient’s cancer. He has successfully established two long term CTC cultures. Daniel’s PhD scholarship was fully funded through Cancer Institute NSW / CONCERT. Dr Brungs has authored a review and several research manuscripts with the CCDR.

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Mr Andre Franken

is shortly about to submit his PhD thesis on mutation biomarker screening of CTCs in breast cancer patients at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany. He is as a visiting scientist with the CCDR in Dec 2017 / Jan 2018. His visit here is helping to cement an established collaboration with his German team and foster the exchange of expertise. In his short stay Andre has already established a test for a known cancer biomarker in brain cancer. His trip to Australia is funded through the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). “It is great to learn where CTC research is up to in Australia and identify areas where my German team can help the CCDR as well as those where the CCDR can help our projects.”

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Mr Francis Young

is currently completely at BMedMD at UNSW. He originally joined the CCDR for two independent work experiences (2014 & 2015) and completed a BSc (Med) Honours degree with us in 2016. His project involved establishing tests for changes of the androgen receptor (AR) in advanced prostate cancer. He was able to show that such changes are biomarkers of failure to therapy. Francis was a recipient of an Ingham Institute Honours Scholarship and was awarded a first class Honours for his work by UNSW. Francis has co-authored two research manuscripts and a first author manuscript is in preparation.

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Ms Alison Luk

was funded during 2016 on our NBCF project grant and she did important base work for that project into breast cancer to distinguish “harmless” breast cancer CTCs from aggressive ones and understanding how harmless cells might switch to become aggressive. Alison is first author of one CCDR research manuscript and co-author on two others. Alison followed her passion to research the microbiom for a PhD project at University of Sydney since 2017.

 

Mr Joseph Po

was a scientist WSU PhD student in the Ingham Institute’s CCDR, still awaiting the award of his PhD. Joseph’s project analysed CTCs of ovarian cancer patients. By analysing simple blood samples he wanted to predict which patients will respond better and which patients may fail current therapies and ultimately his work is aimed to offer these patients the best therapy available and tailored to their disease biomarkers as analysed from patient’s CTCs. “My research project will help to identify ovarian cancer patients who no longer respond to treatment. This will allow doctors to switch patients away from ineffective treatment to an alternative therapy, giving patients the best chance for response and quality of life.” Joseph was funded by a scholarship from the Rotary Health (Rotary Club Liverpool West). Joseph first authored a book chapter and two research papers with the CCDR and moved on to be the Manager of the CONCERT biobank.

Mr David Lynch

was a scientist and WSU PhD student in the Ingham Institute’s CCDR, whose project analysed CTCs and circulating tumour nucleic acids from brain cancer patients. This is cutting edge and very difficult. In fact it was long assumed no circulating tumour particles could be found in the blood of brain cancer patients. David has been able to detect low numbers of CTCs and ctDNA in brain cancer patient blood and was involved in setting up highly sensitive tests to obtain biomarker information from these sparse CTCs and ctDNA. “I like that my project will potentially meet an urgent need as a lot of brain cancer patients can not be safely operated on. Therefore, to be able to obtain biomarker information from their blood could help to find the patient’s best therapeutic path.” David was funded by an Ingham Institute Director’s Scholarship. David is co-author on several CCDR publications. He moved on to an exciting research position with WSU to investigate Alzheimer's disease.

Mr Thomas Opperman

joint the CCDR in 2018 as a UNSW ILP Honours student. His project was to analyse how the androgen receptor pathway is linked to the PTEN-AKT pathway to cause resistance to therapy in prostate cancer and to investigate this link in CTCs from prostate cancer patients. He co-authored a research publication with the CCDR.

 

Mr Mohammed Nimir

joint the CCDR in 2018 as a UNSW ILP Honours student. His project was to analyse how expression of a variant form of the androgen receptor (AR-V7) is regulated in prostate cancer cells to cause resistance to therapy and his project involves detecting drug-resistance associated AR-V7 from plasma (circulating tumor RNA), exosomes and CTCs. He first authored a research publication from his project showing that AR-V7 is best analysed in CTCs.

Ms Casey Borthwick

has initially done a PhD into molecular analysis of the immunology in Australian marsupials and bought the molecular experience gained there to her medical research. She was working on our NBCF funded project in 2017 to distinguish “harmless” breast cancer CTCs from aggressive ones and understanding how these cells might switch to become aggressive. “It would be great to see my work contributing to how breast cancer survivors are monitored and possibly one day to prevent the cancer cells from becoming aggressive in some patients.”

 

Ms Karine Prevost

was a visiting student in 2014. Karine did a 10 week work placement in the CCDR in Australia as part of her Biotechnology degree in France. Karine is now employed by a major Biotechnology Company in France. “The work in the CCDR was a great experience and taught me new molecular biology skills in the context of medical research.”