University researchers and affiliates shine at Premier's cancer awards

5 August 2013

University of Sydney researchers and its affiliated institutes have taken out six out of the 10 awards at the 2013 Premier's Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research.

Premier Barry O'Farrell presented the Premier's Award for Outstanding Cancer Researcher to Professor John Thompson, Professor of Melanoma and Surgical Oncology at the University and Executive Director of University-affiliate, the Melanoma Institute of Australia.

Speaking at the awards, Premier O'Farrell said: "Melanoma is Australia's national cancer challenge, given we have the highest incidence of this deadly disease in the world. I am pleased to recognise work being done by Professor Thompson at the Melanoma Institute Australia and University of Sydney is offering us real advances in the prevention, detection and treatment of melanoma. He and his team have made a significant and sustained contribution to the field of melanoma research."

The Melanoma Institute Australia had further cause for celebration when Dr Georgina Long, a clinical researcher and medical oncologist at the Institute, received the award for Outstanding Cancer Research Fellow, and melanoma diagnostics researcher, Dr Pascale Guiterra took home The Wildfire Award.

University of Sydney PhD student, Goldie Lui received the Pfizer Oncology Scholarship for her research into the mechanisms of novel anti-cancer agents and her ground-breaking work on the protein NDRG1 and how it can be used to inhibit cancer progression.

Dimitri Conomos from University-affiliate, the Children's Medical Research Institute, was presented with the Outstanding Research Scholar award.

Anthony J Gill and Roderick J Clifton-Bligh from the Northern Translational Cancer Research Unit based within University-affiliate, the Kolling Institute of Medical Research, won the award for Excellence in Translational Cancer Research.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Jill Trewhella said: "I congratulate the recipients of these awards. The awards provide important recognition for our researchers and for the University's cancer research.

"They also are independent affirmation of the recommendations brought forward in our recent Health and Medical Research Strategic Review that recognised our strength in cancer research and that it should be a priority at the University of Sydney."

More about our awardees

The NSW Premier's Award for Outstanding Cancer Researcher of the Year: Professor John Thompson, Melanoma Institute Australia and University of Sydney

Professor John Thompson is nationally and internationally recognised for his leadership in developing the sentinel node biopsy technique in the management of melanoma - a technique which revolutionised the staging of patients, and is now widely regarded as the standard of care. In the early 1990s he pioneered the Isolated Limb Infusion, which has improved the lives of many people who avoided the need for amputations. He personally taught this technique to surgeons around the world, and it is now performed regularly. Professor Thompson is an outstanding and committed teacher, which has led to the Melanoma Institute Australia becoming one of the world's leading melanoma treatment and research centres.

Outstanding Research Scholar: Dimitri Conomos, Children's Medical Research Institute and University of Sydney

Dimitri Conomos is a PhD researcher undertaking work on telomeres and cancer cell biology. Telemores exist at the end of chromosomes and act like the tip of a shoelace, protecting genetic data and potentially holding the secrets to ageing and cancer. He has published in several journals and is aiming to publish at the end of his PhD candidature.

Pfizer Oncology Scholarship: Goldie Yuan Lam Lui, University of Sydney

Ms Lui achieved her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacology and Pathology at the University of Sydney, receiving continuous recognition as a talented student and attaining First Class Honours and the University Medal in 2010. Since commencing her research, focusing on understanding the mechanisms of novel anti-cancer agents, she has been involved in ground-breaking work on the protein NDRG1 and how it can be used to inhibit cancer progression. Her career goals are driven by a desire to contribute to expanding medical knowledge and improving therapies.

Outstanding Cancer Research Fellow: Dr Georgina Long, Melanoma Institute Australia and Westmead Institute for Cancer Research

Dr Long is the chief investigator on a project with the Melanoma Institute Australia and Westmead Institute for Cancer Research examining how targeted drugs and combinations of therapies can enhance an immune response to melanoma. Her work is contributing to improving outcomes in a country that has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world.

Excellence in Translational Cancer Research: Anthony J Gill and Roderick J Clifton-Bligh, Cancer Diagnosis and Pathology Group and Cancer Genetics Group, Northern Translational Cancer Research Unit (based within the Kolling Institute of Medical Research)

Anthony Gill and Roderick Clifton-Bligh have advanced the world's understanding on the detection and screening of hereditary cancers. Anthony and Roderick have improved the identification of these cancers, specifically helping recognise the unique features of hereditary gastrointestinal tumours and renal and pituitary cancers. In particular, they have developed more cost effective and accurate screening program as well as training experts to undertake their work and establishing a surveillance guideline for early detection and intervention. Together these measures go a long way to improving the ability of people to detect hereditary cancer early on and take preventative action.

The Wildfire Award: Dr Pascale Guiterra, Melanoma Institute Australia and Sydney Melanoma Diagnostic Centre

Dr Guiterra's work in improving the accuracy of melanoma diagnostics has been acclaimed in the highest ranking international dermatological journal. the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Her study demonstrated to the world the success of using a special type of microscope and software to pinpoint Lentigo Maligna - or LM - an aggressive type of cancer which has a 50 percent chance of progressing to invasive melanoma if untreated.

Dr Guiterra studied the success of the Vivo Reflectance Confocal Microscopy - or RCM - in identifying LM on the face of patients. RMC allows for an optical biopsy avoiding surgical incisions. The microscope has a camera and software to recreate images of the tumour and assist in accurate diagnosis. Australia has the highest incidence of LM globally. Identifying this life threating cancer is extremely difficult - its form and shape is hard to pick, if a few scattered atypical cells are missed - then so is diagnosis. Dr Guitera's work will save lives and help prevention of melanoma.

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