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Dr L. Cheng Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

The effect of diet on tumour growth is hotly debated but poorly characterized. Due to the heterogeneous nature of the tumours, dietary studies in patients with varied genetic background often led to inconclusive outcome. Dedifferentiation is a cellular process by which a partially or terminally differentiated cell reverts to a less differentiated, more multipotent state. The bidirectional conversion between differentiated cells and stem cells often underlies carcinogenesis.

Cancers such as glioblastoma, the most aggressive subtype of the gliomas, are thought to originate from terminally differentiated cortical astrocytes and neurons. Similarly, through expressing the right combination of transcription factors, non-cancer stem cells can also convert to highly proliferative cancer stem cells found in intestinal tumours. Using a combination of genetics, metabolic and genomic techniques, the student will address the knowledge gap of how diet, in particular amino acid metabolism, impacts on cellular dedifferentiation, and tumour growth. These studies will allow us to quickly and systematically identify tumour metabolic dependencies, and shed light on important metabolic targets, which can be assessed in other stem cell and tumour settings.

The student participating in this project will use a combination of Drosophila genetics, confocal microscopy, FACS analysis and molecular biology techniques to address this question.

Neural stem cells produce the neurons and glial cells that populate our central nervous system. The Cheng Lab uses the fruit fly Drosophila as a model system to study the processes that regulate stem cell self-renewal and differentiation, key determinants of overall brain size. The aim of our work is to identify the genes that direct the behaviour of stem cells and differentiated cells in the developing nervous system. We exploit genetic and molecular tools to address the following questions:
1) How do neurons maintain their specialised (differentiated) status?
2) How do stem cells multiply to self-renew?
3) How do dietary nutrients affect the ability of stem cells and stem cell-derived tumours to grow and divide?
4) How does the environment surrounding the stem cells affect stem cell and cancer stem cell behaviour?

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne Australia’s only public hospital solely dedicated to cancer, and home to the largest cancer research group in Australia. Cancer is a complex set of diseases, and modern cancer research institutes such as Peter Mac conduct research covering a diversity of topics that range from laboratory-based studies into the fundamental mechanisms of cell growth, translational studies that seek more accurate cancer diagnosis, clinical trials with novel treatments, and research aimed to improve supportive care.

All students engaged in postgraduate studies at Peter Mac are enrolled in the Comprehensive Cancer PhD (CCPhD) program, regardless of which university they are enrolled through. The program is managed by the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology (The University of Melbourne), based at Peter Mac.

The Comprehensive Cancer PhD program builds on established conventional training for cancer research students providing a coordinated program of skills, research and career training in addition to usual PhD activities. The program is designed to complement existing PhD activities and provides opportunities to develop professional skills that will help candidates to fulfil their career ambitions.

Funding Notes

All PhD students at Peter Mac must have a scholarship from The University of Melbourne or through another government, trust or philanthropic organisation. Before applying for a scholarship, you must have agreed on a project with an institute supervisor.

For further information about the university application process, see:

For further information regarding scholarships (both local and international), see:
Closing dates for applications for scholarships to commence in 2020: Round 1 -31 October 2019; Round 2 - 31 Jan 2020; Round 3 - 15 May 2020.
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