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Metabolic Reprogramming in Liver Cancer: delineating the role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in tumour development

Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, University of Melbourne

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Prof T. Tiganis Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

The Tiganis Laboratory is seeking a highly enthusiastic student to conduct research in cancer metabolism and obesity-associated liver cancer.

Primary liver cancer is one of the world’s deadliest cancers. It is the 5th most common cancer worldwide and represents the 3rd most common cause of cancer death. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) accounts for 90% of primary liver cancers and is refractory to nearly all currently available anti-cancer therapies with a 5 year survival rate of <9%. In Australia HCC represents the most rapidly rising cause of cancer death. Worryingly the incidence of HCC in developed countries has been increasing driven by the obesity epidemic, the associated development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its progression to the more aggressive non-alcoholic steatohepatitis that results in liver fibrosis/cirrhosis. As the early stages of NAFLD/scarring are asymptomatic, patients with HCC typically present with advanced disease. Standard chemotherapy responses are poor, in most cases having no impact on overall survival rates, whereas the only targeted FDA-approved drug for HCC, Sorafenib (a multi-targeted oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor) prolongs survival by only 2-3 months. Thus there is an urgent need for new therapeutics.

The project aims to delineate the role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in tumour development and determine if selectively targeting redox pathways may be effective in suppressing HCC growth and maintenance. In particular we will take advantage of exciting new findings in the cancer field suggesting that the reliance of many tumours on ROS for their growth, may also be their Achilles’ heel and that exacerbating the toxic effects of ROS may promote cell death and help eradicate tumours.

Exceptional graduate students with a high level (H1) Honours degree (or equivalent) in Biochemistry, Cancer Biology or a related discipline are encouraged to apply.

The Tiganis laboratory has had a long-standing interest in delineating the CNS and peripheral mechanisms that contribute to the development of obesity and its associated complications. A key focus of our laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is to understand how obesity drives the development of cancer, including HCC, endometrial cancer and breast cancer.
More specifically, the Tiganis laboratory is interested in understanding how alterations in redox balance influence tumour metabolism and the extent to which this altered in obesity, and how obesity affects anti-tumour immunity, so that tumour cells avoid elimination by the host immune response.

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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