Childhood cancer research

Developing novel immunotherapies to prevent the recurrence of sarcoma after cancer removal surgery

Dr Ben Wylie

Dr Ben Wylie’s research is funded by Cure Cancer

He is based at the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia. 

Dr Ben Wylie is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Sarcoma Translational Research Group at the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre. He graduated in 2018 from The University of Western Australia with a PhD specialising in immunology and immunotherapy. As a student, he was fascinated by the complexities of the immune system and how it keeps our bodies safe from illness. This attracted him to his current research: Designing new therapies to harness the immune system to fight sarcoma and develop safer and more effective treatments. 


Every year, more than 75 children aged under 15 will be diagnosed with sarcoma in Australia. Sadly, 2 in 5 children diagnosed with this common childhood cancer will die from it.  

Sarcoma is an aggressive cancer type affecting the bone and soft tissues that can be difficult to treat. While it is considered a rare cancer in adults, it disproportionately affects children and adolescents, accounting for 20% of the cancers diagnosed in the under-20 age group. 

Unfortunately, paediatric sarcoma patients are known to have a high risk of cancer recurrence, which is a leading cause of cancer-related death. When this happens, they need to undergo follow-up chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which can have severe, long-term side effects and limited benefit.  

Dr Ben Wylie’s sarcoma research

For solid cancers like sarcoma, the first-line treatment is often surgical removal. However, if the entire tumour cannot be completely removed, the remaining cancer cells will lead to cancer recurrence. For recurrent cancers, treatments tend to be less ineffective and may cause severe, life-long effects. 

Dr Ben Wylie has recognised the potential of mRNA, an emerging technology famously used in the COVID-19 vaccine, to address this problem by activating the immune system to precisely target any cancer cells left behind. His team has developed a biodegradable gel that surgeons can apply locally during cancer removal surgery. The gel will release mRNA-based immunotherapy drugs in the surgical area, which act as messengers to activate the immune system. As the gel is naturally broken down by the body, the drugs are slowly released over time, reducing the need for children to stay in hospital for gruelling follow-up treatments.   

 “I know so many people who have been impacted by cancer. Cancer research felt like an area where I could make a real difference and have a positive impact. This project will allow me to do cutting-edge research that has the potential to lead to new treatments for cancer patients, ones that are more effective and have less side effects compared to current options.”  

- Dr Ben Wylie   

Through this Cure Cancer-funded project, Dr Wylie aims to identify the best messengers to signal the immune system to kill remaining cancer cells. His team will then fine-tune the gel to deliver these precise signals during cancer removal surgery. Young patients will benefit from this research as they will receive safer and more effective treatment with less side effects, and will be able to return home to their families sooner.

The importance of funding cancer research

Though “flexibility, adaptability and freedom” can be some of the benefits of working in research, Dr Wylie says they can also be its weaknesses due to the inherent challenges of being an emerging researcher. “The current lack of funding and job security that comes with this can make it difficult for people to feel secure in their role and make long-term plans. It is important for early-career researchers to have good role models and mentors to support them,” he says.  

Even so, his message to other researchers in similar positions is: “Don’t get disheartened when things don’t go your way and remember that the work you will do is incredibly important and will drive improvements in the future that we could never dream of.” 

On the impact of being funded by Cure Cancer, Dr Wylie says, “This funding provides me the security to grow my team and gather crucial proof of concept data, which will validate my approach and allow me to apply for future grant funding and fellowships.” His funding brings him closer to his goal of eventually working with oncologists and cancer surgeons on a clinical trial using mRNA-based cancer therapies to improve outcomes for patients with a poor prognosis. 

​Outside of cancer research, Dr Wylie is passionate about fitness and being outdoors in nature. He enjoys team sports like hockey and volleyball, and hiking and rock climbing with friends. 

“Cure Cancer grants are vital for promising early-stage research. It is wonderful that Cure Cancer has recognised the potential of my work, and their funding will allow me to establish my research program in a new and exciting area that shows great promise for the development of improved cancer therapies."

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