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Grant for Prominent Breast Cancer Researchers Supports Prevention Trial

24 November 2016 at 4:42 pm
Ellie Cooper
Two of Australia’s leading breast cancer researchers have won the Ramaciotti Foundation’s medal for excellence in biomedical research and a $50,000 grant, which will support their prevention trial.

Ellie Cooper | 24 November 2016 at 4:42 pm


Grant for Prominent Breast Cancer Researchers Supports Prevention Trial
24 November 2016 at 4:42 pm

Two of Australia’s leading breast cancer researchers have won the Ramaciotti Foundation’s medal for excellence in biomedical research and a $50,000 grant, which will support their prevention trial.

Husband-and-wife team Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, were recipients of the annual award which honours an outstanding discovery in clinical or experimental biomedical research.

Over the past decade, Visvader, Lindeman and their team made a series of ground-breaking discoveries, including the discovery of breast stem cells and defining other cell types in the breast that could be important precursor cells that give rise to breast cancer.

“Our most recent discovery has helped to pinpoint the culprit cell that is likely to give rise to women with a faulty BRCA1 gene, made famous by Angelina Jolie,” Lindeman told Pro Bono Australia News.

“We found that the pre-cancerous cells from women with a faulty BRCA1 gene contain a protein called RANK. The activity of RANK in these cells can be targeted by an existing drug called denosumab, currently used to treat osteoporosis or breast cancer that has spread to bone.

“Our findings have provided a potentially new way for switching off the culprit cells even before they become cancerous.”

He said the Ramaciotti award would help the team take the next important steps required to transfer the discovery to the clinic.

“We were both delighted to receive the Ramaciotti Award, which is a huge honour. It is humbling to join the list of previous winners, many of whom are luminaries in Australian biomedical research,” he said.

“The grant will help facilitate our efforts in developing a breast cancer prevention trial for women with a faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. These women are at high risk of developing breast cancer, so an effective prevention strategy that reduces their need for mastectomy is an important area of need.

“We are really excited that our work is leading towards newer treatment and prevention approaches in the clinic.”

Visvader, Lindeman and their team have been undertaking breast cancer research for around 18 years.

“Our strategy to discovering new ways to tackle this disease is to get a handle on normal breast development,” Lindeman said.

“In many ways we have viewed breast cancer as normal breast development that has gone awry, so understanding normal development can help to spotlight the cellular and genetic events that lead to breast cancer.”

Five other biomedical researchers will also be allocated up to $150,000 as part of the Ramaciotti health investment grants, which support early-career scientists in the health or medical research field who have a potential path to clinical application within five years.

The recipients are:

  • Dr Jane Kohlhoff for an app used for the identification of developmental and mental health problems in early childhood
  • Associate Professor Lyndell Lim for improving cataract surgery outcomes in patients with with Diabetic Macular Oedema
  • Associate Professor Philippa Middleton for preventing preterm birth and improving long-term health by personalising dietary fat intake for pregnant women
  • Dr Sanjay Patel for using the drug colchicine to stabilise vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque
  • Dr Mark Polizzotto for immune modulation for prevention of anogenital cancer in people with persistent high-grade anal intraepithelial neoplasia.

The awards are managed by Perpetual, as trustee of the Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Foundations.

Perpetual’s national manager and philanthropy and non-profit services Caitriona Fay said the organisation was proud to support Australia’s biomedical community.

“The Ramaciotti Foundations are one of the largest private contributors to biomedical research in Australia and have provided essential support to some of our most remarkable scientists since 1970,” Fay said.

“Vera Ramaciotti’s vision and the legacy she has created is a leading example of the powerful way philanthropy can deliver to the community.”

Professor Derek Hart, from University of Sydney, led the Ramaciotti Scientific Advisory Committee, which assisted in selecting the recipients.

“We had an extraordinarily difficult time selecting from the outstanding array of applicants.The five projects chosen are expected to make a major contribution in translating novel preclinical advances into clinical practice,” Hart said.

“We look forward to seeing the impact of the grants on these significant research undertakings.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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