Cancer Council provides $1.55 million for epigenetics research

Tuesday 16 October, 2018

A Melbourne researcher who is developing new epigenetics-based therapies to treat cancer has received a $1.55 million research fellowship from Cancer Council Victoria today.

Professor Mark Dawson, a senior clinician and scientist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, will use the five-year Sir Edward Dunlop Research Fellowship to continue his pioneering research into “epigenetic regulators”.

“This is the most common class of genes and proteins mutated in cancer and they control the critical processes of gene expression, DNA repair and DNA replication,” Professor Dawson said.

“My lab at Peter Mac is identifying new methods to influence and ultimately target these epigenetic regulators with drugs that can counteract cancers that are hard to treat.

“For example, this approach could yield new ways to eradicate cancer stem cells which we know are very adept at evading the immune system, and many cancer drugs, to sustain the malignancy.”

Professor Dawson’s research has a particular focus on, and application to, blood cancers including acute myeloid leukaemia.

Unlike conventional chemotherapies that often supress the immune system, targeted therapies such as epigenetic therapies may enable the patient’s active immune system to recognise cancer cells as foreign and ultimately help eradicate them.

Professor Dawson’s discoveries in this field over ten years include helping to develop a first-in-class epigenetic therapy now being assessed in more than 30 multi-centre clinical trials around the world.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said, if successful, Professor Dawson’s research could pioneer new treatments for a broad array of cancers.

“The outcomes of this Fellowship could be of great benefit not only to Victorian cancer patients, but also to people around the world,” Mr Harper said.

“This body of work will not only provide important new insights into the molecular make-up of cancer, it has the potential to deliver new treatments that could significantly increase the survival of cancer patients.”

Mr Harper said the fellowship was named in memory of Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop to mark his contribution to Australia and, in particular, to the work of Cancer Council Victoria.

“Thanks to a generous support from the Victorian community we are thrilled to be in a position to help fund world-leading researcher like Professor Dawson right here in Victoria,” Mr Harper said.

Peter Mac’s Executive Director of Cancer Research Professor Ricky Johnstone said the Sir Edward Dunlop Research Fellowship had recognised Professor Dawson’s outstanding contribution to Peter Mac and his hugely influential and high-impact research.

“Epigenetics therapy represents an exciting new approach within the broad pipeline of research underway at Peter Mac to identify new cancer treatments,” Professor Johnstone says.

“We thank the Cancer Council for their support and congratulate Professor Dawson for his Fellowship which also provides the critical funding necessary to accelerate his important work.”

An estimated 134,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia this year, with more than 33,000 diagnosed in Victoria alone. Cancer is also a leading cause of death in Australia, with more than 44,000 Australia losing their lives to the disease each year.


About Professor Mark Dawson

After completing his clinical training in Melbourne, Professor Dawson was awarded the prestigious General Sir John Monash Fellowship and Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Fellowship, which he used to complete his PhD at the University of Cambridge. Following his PhD, he was the top ranked applicant for a career development fellowship in the UK and was awarded the inaugural Wellcome Trust Beit Prize Fellowship to pursue his research into epigenetic regulation of leukaemia stem cells. Professor Dawson’s research has been published in world leading journals including Nature, Cell, Science and New England Journal of Medicine. Professor Dawson is now head of the Translational Haematology Program at Peter Mac.