An NHMRC Investigator grant worth $1.4 million will assist Dr Misty Jenkins to continue her research into the treatment of brain cancer.
One of the most difficult cancers to treat, brain cancer and associated tumours have a high rate of morbidity and are also the most expensive per person to manage.
Despite this, the area receives only a very small amount of the total federal government cancer research funding, according to the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. The current survival rate for people diagnosed with brain cancer is just 20 per cent.
The grant, made to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research where Dr Jenkins leads an immunology laboratory, is important to the ongoing work being done by her team, she says.
"It essentially pays my salary, which runs out at the end of this year," Dr Jenkins says.
"Seriously, it actually enables me to continue with my vision to establish a world-leading immunotherapy lab in the application of both adult and paediatric brain cancer. Brain cancer is traditionally a very challenging disease to study, which is why there have been no new treatments in decades."
Dr Jenkins, who is from Ballarat originally, studied post-doctoral degrees at both Oxford and Cambridge universities in the United Kingdom, and completed both undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Melbourne, taught by immunologist Laureate Professor Peter Doherty and ProfessoriSteve Turner.
"With new, cutting edge medical approaches we are cautiously optimistic they can be applied in the brain. In recent years immunotherapy, using the patient's own immune system, has become if you like the fourth pillar of treatment, in addition to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy."
Dr Jenkins is investigating the CAR T cell therapy in childhood brain cancers, says the The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.
'The therapy involves repurposing and engineering a patient's own T cells and directing them to attack their own tumours. It has been one of the greatest advancements in cancer therapy in decades, and has shown great promise in the treatment of blood cancers,' the Institute writes.
"It's exciting to see immunotherapy approaches result in cures in paediatric patients with leukemia; we're applying that approach in the brain." says Dr Jenkins.
The focussed application of immunotherapy is also one of its beneficial side-effects.
"Radiation and chemotherapy do kill healthy cells as well, whereas with immunotherapy, it's precision and personalised medicine. It kills exactly the tumour the patient has."