Researcher Spotlight: Our Childhood Cancer Researchers

Researcher Spotlight: Our Childhood Cancer Researchers

This Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we take a look at some of the Cure Cancer Australia-funded researchers who dedicate their lives to eliminating the threat of childhood cancer for good.

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Dr Orazio Vittorio
Project Leader, Children’s Cancer Institute
Cure Cancer Australia Funding: 2018
Funded by Cure Cancer Australia and the Sydney Airport Community


Despite the use of aggressive therapy, survival rates for children with neuroblastoma are poor and survivors often experience long-term side effects. Copper is an essential element for the growth of tumour cells. In fact, neuroblastoma cells have high levels of copper compared to non-malignant cells.

In his current research, Dr Orazio Vittorio is studying and developing drugs that target neuroblastoma cells, and which have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapies. In particular, he aims to target copper in cancer cells and has developed a drug that is preferentially active in cancer cells with high copper levels.

‘My project will help develop new, targeted treatments for tumours whose growth depends on copper,’ says Orazio. ‘We aim to establish a therapeutic strategy to increase survival rates and improve the quality of life of patients.’

As cancer survivor and a father himself, Orazio has a deep understanding of the importance of childhood cancer research. ‘Children are our future, and seeing children suffering because of cancer is something we can’t allow to happen. We must work together to win this battle!’

Find out more about childhood cancer.

Dr Nick Gottardo
Co-Head, Brain Cancer Research, Telethon Kids Institute
Consultant Paediatric Oncologist/Neuro-Oncologist and Head of Department of Paediatric Oncology and Haematology, Perth Children’s Hospital. 
Cure Cancer Australia Funding: 2016, 2017
Funded by Cure Cancer Australia and The Denton Family Trust

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Driven by the belief that it is simply unacceptable for children to die of brain tumours, Dr Nick Gottardo’s childhood cancer research career spans across 25 years. Beginning his medical training and career in the UK, he has since worked in the USA where he headed to St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, one of the world's premier childhood cancer institutes, before returning to Australia to take up positions at Telethon Kids Institute and Perth Children’s Hospital.

 Nick’s current research is trying change the status quo by identifying new treatments to increase survival rates as well as reduce side effects. ‘We are currently testing some promising new drugs using sophisticated models of childhood brain cancer to see if these drugs will allow us to reduce the amount of radiation therapy that is needed to treat children with brain cancer, thereby reducing harmful side effects,’ he explains.

Nick was recently nominated for the WA Australian of the Year 2018, an accolade that was particularly meaningful to him because he was selected by a group of parents and grandparents of children who have had cancer.

 ‘Through research, remarkable progress has been made in childhood cancer over the past half a century. Leukaemia, once a death sentence, is now curable in the vast majority of children. Unfortunately, survival for other childhood cancers remains poor, indeed childhood brain cancer is now the leading cause of death in children due to disease. In addition, survivors are often left with serious life-long side effects, which can impact on their quality of life. Only through ongoing research will we be able to change these dreadful statistics’ says Nick.

Find out more about childhood cancer.

Prof Bryan Day
Team Head, Sid Faithfull Brain Cancer Laboratory (QIMR Berghofer)
Cure Cancer Australia Funding: 2012, 2015/16
Funded by Cure Cancer Australia and Tour de Cure

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The current standards of care for childhood brain cancer include chemotherapy and radiation. Although they are effective, they unfortunately also damage the normal healthy brain. This leads to lifelong learning and neurocognitive problems and predisposes children to other cancers in later life. Bryan and his team focus on identifying therapeutic targets that are expressed only on the tumour and not on the normal brain. ‘In this way, we hope to specifically target the tumour with antibody therapies to not only improve patient survival but also improve their quality of life’ he explains.

Bryan and his team are motivated on a daily basis to discover better therapies for children with brain cancer. Their progress in the field of paediatric brain cancer means that more effective treatments can be made available to those who desperately need them. ‘The burden on families affected by paediatric cancer is very significant,’ says Bryan. ‘Awareness and funding are sorely needed in order to secure a future in which this suffering is significantly reduced.’

Find out more about childhood cancer.

Cure Cancer Australia also funded a number of young cancer researchers early in their careers, who have gone on to become leaders in childhood cancer research globally. These include: 

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Prof Michelle Haber AM

Executive Director, Children’s Cancer Institute
Professor, School of Women’s and Children’s Health, UNSW

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Prof Glenn Marshall

Senior Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital
Head of the Molecular Carcinogenesis Program, Children's Cancer Institute Australia
Conjoint Professor, School of Women and Children’s Health, UNSW

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Prof Maria Kavallaris

Head of the Tumour Biology and Targeting Program, Children's Cancer Institute
Director, Australian Centre for NanoMedicine, UNSW

Their contribution to childhood cancer has saved countless lives, but we still have a long way to go before the threat of childhood cancer is eliminated for good.

 No child should have to suffer from cancer. Please donate today.

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