Dr Jessica Holien

Unlocking the machinery of neuroblastoma

Jessica’s research grant is funded by an anonymous donor.

Jessica is a 5point Foundation Christine Martin Fellow at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Victoria, and gained her PhD at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2010. She has been involved in a number of commercial drug discovery projects that have been licensed to pharmaceutical companies and entered clinical trials.

In 2017 she was asked to be on the board of the Australian Society for Medical Research, and in 2018 was chosen to be a participant in the veski Inspiring Woman STEM sidebyside program, an initiative to support women in the science, technology, engineering and maths industries. This is her second Cure Cancer grant.

The Research

Neuroblastoma is a devastating cancer that affects infants under five years of age. There is an urgent need for drugs that can specifically attack these cancer cells, while having low toxicity for the healthy cells of a child.

With this grant, Jessica will use computers to help seek new treatments, creating a cutting-edge map of what scientists refer to as the proteins, or ‘machinery’ that make neuroblastoma cancer cells grow. By understanding how this cancer cell production line is formed, and how it differs to the one used by normal cells, she aims to discover new, selective drug targets for the disease. 

‘Once we biologically confirm that these targets are important, I will then use computers to design new drugs which may be developed into the treatments of the future,’ she says.

The Importance of Funding

‘Cure Cancer is unique because it funds the wild ideas of young researchers which can lead to breakthroughs,’ says Jessica. ‘There aren’t many grants for early-career researchers who are competing for funds with senior researchers with extensive track records.’

‘Today the people who inspire me are not other researchers, but the patients and supporters I speak to. Their faith in my ability is what pushes me to do all I can to find new treatments for disease.’ For cancer patients, Jessica has a message of optimism. ‘New treatments are being found all the time for all types of cancer. Survival rates are good, so don’t give up hope.’