2019 ANZSA Sarcoma Research Grant Program Recipients

The Australia and New Zealand Sarcoma Association (ANZSA) is proud to announce the funding of four Australian researchers under its annual Sarcoma Research Grant Program. These four research projects will focus on understanding the genetics of sarcoma tumours and investigate new diagnostics and treatment options for sarcoma patients.

“As the peak body for the sarcoma community, we are pleased to support these researchers through our research grant program and are confident that their quality research will one day lead to new breakthroughs in sarcoma diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr Denise Caruso, CEO of ANZSA.

The ANZSA Sarcoma Research Grant Program is funded by generous sarcoma charitable foundations that were established by friends and families in memory of their loved ones who have passed on due to sarcoma. Upon realising the challenges in sarcoma research and treatment due to resources and awareness, these foundations decided to make a difference for future sarcoma patients through fundraising campaigns.

Since the formalisation of the ANZSA Sarcoma Research Grant Program in 2011, the organisation has awarded more than 30 local researchers with grants worth over $1.2 million.

 “We are extremely grateful to all the foundations for their trust in ANZSA and their generosity in raising funds to invest into sarcoma research like these to improve early diagnosis, treatment options, outcomes and quality of life in hopes that one day we can find a cure,” added Denise.

ANZSA was formed following the merger between the Australasian Sarcoma Study Group (ASSG) and the Australia Sarcoma Group (ASG) in 2018. It remains steadfast in its mission to lead the sarcoma narrative through research, education and awareness of sarcomas and related tumours.

The four research projects are worth $130,000 and will be worked on throughout 2019. Details of the researchers and their projects include:

The Hannah’s Chance Sarcoma Research Grant was awarded to Dr Cristina Vargas from the Douglass Hanly Moir Pathology, Sonic, and University of Sydney

Dr Vargas’ research aims to improve the diagnosis and management of patients with soft tissue sarcomas (STS). The current landscape shows that sarcoma tumours are particularly unpredictable as it is unknown which patients may be cured after completing treatment and which ones will relapse years later with widespread, inoperable disease.

Dr Vargas and her team will assess a retrospective cohort of patients with metastatic or recurrent STS. The research will focus on direct comparisons using molecular tools between the primary sarcoma and the recurrent or metastatic deposits, and to understand key molecular changes. Dr Vargas’ research hopes to unravel potential biomarkers through DNA methylation analysis which could be applied to tissue samples at the time of diagnosis to identify patients with metastatic potential, who will require more aggressive and different targeted therapeutic approach.

The Johanna Sewell Sarcoma Research Grant was awarded to Dr Willem Joost Lesterhuis from the Telethon Kids Institute, Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia

It is understood that despite intensive surgical treatment, chemotherapy and radiotherapy for sarcoma, relapses frequently occur, particularly at the site of surgery. Dr Lesterhuis’ research aims to develop a degradable biomaterial containing immune-stimulating drugs, which can be applied to the wound bed during sarcoma surgery. They are hopeful that the material will slowly release the drugs, resulting in the attraction and activation of immune cells that can eradicate remaining cancer cells. Through this research project, his team of researchers will undertake the first step of developing the material and testing it for safety and efficacy with minimum side effects.

The Leon Stone Sarcoma Research Grant was awarded to Dr Belinda Kramer from The Kids Research Institute, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead

Dr Kramer’s research aims to develop an immune therapy to target sarcomas in children. Her research will focus on taking patients’ immune T-cells, and gene modifying the cells to carry a Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) that allows the T-cells to detect and kill tumour cells.

Her team will access sophisticated instruments such as mass cytometers to characterise the types of CAR T-cells and the way it can be used to target sarcoma cells at a molecular level. This research will also analyse the CAR T-cell and tumour interactions to provide insights into designing the protocol for testing of sarcoma targeted CAR T-cells in a clinical trial.

The Xavier Krikori Sarcoma Research Grant was awarded to A/Prof Evan Ingley from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research

Liposarcoma is one of the most common subtypes of soft tissue sarcoma. It is found that consistent genetic mutation found in liposarcoma can cause the transformation of normal fat into low-grade tumours that have the potential to become high-grade tumours.

A/Prof Ingley’s research aims to examine the genetic changes responsible for the development of high-grade liposarcoma tumours by comparing the gene sequences and genetic activation of low and high-grade tumours. As a result, this will help the research team identify genes responsible for aggressive changes and thereafter, the ability to perform a gene-editing study. By editing out the genes of interest from liposarcoma cell cultures and examining the effects. A/Prof Ingley is hopeful that it will identify pivotal targets for the development of precision anti-cancer drugs.

For more details about the individual projects or any media queries, please contact Jeffrey (jeffrey.goh@petermac.org).