Dr Arutha Kulasinghe

Dr Arutha Kulasinghe

Success: Utilising cancer research for COVID-19

Cancer Type: Immunotherapy

Based at the Queensland University of Technology, Dr Arutha Kulasinghe is a NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) Research Fellow funded by our principal supporter, The Can Too Foundation.

A new discovery

Whilst 2020 has disrupted the lives of many of us, it has also seen exciting and unexpected successes for Cure Cancer researchers like Arutha. At the start of his research grant, Arutha’s work was focused on immunotherapy by comprehensively assessing the tumour tissue of patients. However, a discussion with a fellow Cure Cancer alumni, Dr Fernando Guimaraes, saw his research develop into a new, award-winning project...

COVID-19 has made us think deeply about our projects, and the work has forced us to pivot and work efficiently in the labs,” Arutha explains. “As a result of this, I began a number of collaborations (having not met most of the researchers pre-Covid-19) and have just submitted a paper about COVID-19 and lung cancer to MEDRXIV. This project was dreamt up at a Cure Cancer event earlier this year between Dr Fernando Guimaraes and myself, and we have identified gene signatures that may be used as triage bio-markers to assess COVID-19 disease severity.”

“We used a new cell mapping technology approach, which we’re applying to cancer immunotherapy for COVID-19. In the study, we analysed COVID-19 tissue and compared it to that of pandemic H1N1 (2009 Swine Flu). By spatially mapping cell types within the lungs and disease states, we’ve identified a number of immune-related genes which differentiate those infected by COVID-19, from that of pH1N1.”

“We believe this is a new finding for the field and are looking to validate the findings with the COVID-Critical and PREDICT-19 consortiums,” he says. “This study will be important in the future for cancer as well, especially for lung cancer patients who have COVID-19 infections.”

Celebrating success

Arutha’s novel approach and research has seen his work recognised by the AusBiotech and Johnson & Johnson Innovation Excellence Awards. By adapting his immunology research to patients with severe COVID-19, Arutha has been recognised with an AusBiotech COVID-19 Life Science Sector Collaboration Award and Industry’s Choice Award.

Receiving the two awards has been a celebration for Arutha, but also highlights the importance of collaboration amongst researchers. “The two awards recognise the efforts by early-career cancer researchers and Cure Cancer Alumni that are able to pivot from their current projects, and make a meaningful contribution during trying times. It also speaks to the collaborative efforts by researchers at QUT, UQ and the WEHI who came together and collectively sought to understand the disease better. A great example of collaborative science."

We need your help

For Arutha, funding bodies like Cure Cancer have been crucial to his success and achievements.

“Funding for early-career researchers is critical as they allow young researchers to develop their ideas and own research questions. This is enabled through Cure Cancer, where researchers can pursue their own ideas with dedicated funding. We are often at a career stage where we are developing our track record without the rungs on the board to demonstrate completeness for NHMRC grants.”

Donate to fund future researchers like Arutha. Together, let’s make this the last generation to die from cancer.

“The funding Cure Cancer has given me has been critical for the development of my career. It’s meant that I can develop my ideas and pursue projects where I am intrinsically motivated.”

Together, we can cure cancer.

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Dr Kulasinghe named Researcher of the Year

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Cure Cancer Opens Early-Career Research Grant Applications For 2023

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