CSL fellowships target cancer and cardiovascular disease

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Two Australian scientists have been awarded $1.25 million, five-year, CSL Centenary Fellowships.

The fellowships are funded through the $25 million CSL Centenary Fellowships program, established in 2016 to support mid-career Australian scientists in their pursuit of world-class research.

The two recipients are Associate Professor Sarah-Jane Dawson and Associate Professor Andrew Murphy.

Associate Professor Dawson, from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, is pioneering the use of ‘liquid biopsies’ for gentler, more thorough cancer testing. She is working on the development of simple blood tests for a wide range of cancers as an alternative to invasive and what can be painful tissue biopsies. The tests identify the tiny fragments of DNA shed by tumour cells into a cancer patient’s blood stream.

Associate Professor Dawson, who has already trialled the tests in breast cancer patients, said it has the potential to help in every phase of treatment, quickly identifying the type of cancer, tailoring treatment to the individual, monitoring their progress, and - once the patient has completed treatment - checking for signs of relapse.

The fellowship will enable Associate Professor Dawson to develop the tests for some of the most common cancer types, accelerating their translation from the lab into the clinic, with the potential to benefit more of the over 400,000 Australians living with cancer.

Associate Professor Andrew Murphy of The Baker Institute is focussed on ‘hematopoietic’ stem cells, working to understand why high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise and smoking drive the over-production of white blood cells leading to arterial plaques and often heart attack or stroke.

He believes the research could lead to a new generation of drugs to fight cardiovascular disease. Associate Professor Murphy will use the fellowship to research how changes in blood glucose influence white blood cell production, how a high salt diet encourages blood stem cells to leave the bone marrow, and a therapy that might encourage bone marrow to make more blood stem cells when we need them for cancer treatment.

“Australian research has an excellent track record in new discoveries to address the world’s unmet medical needs,” said CSL CEO and managing director Paul Perreault.

“At CSL, we are driven by our promise to save lives and protect the health of people around the world. We’re extremely proud to support academic research that holds the potential to change lives for the better. Our Centenary Fellowships honour CSL’s long legacy of contributing to innovative medicines, particularly for patients suffering serious diseases.”

CSL chief scientific officer, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson, said Associate Professors Dawson and Murphy are the embodiment of what the fellowships aim to achieve.

“Innovation is one of the core values that guide CSL’s significant investment into frontier medical research, so it is fitting that the Centenary Fellowships foster the best scientists in Australia who will shape the next generation of critical breakthroughs.”

“Growing skills and expertise through well-funded, long-term support is essential in helping the Australian research community continue to thrive,” said Dr Cuthbertson.