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Seed Funding Awardees 2020

Sydney Vital is pleased to be able to support seven projects in the 2020 round of Seed Funding, covering diverse areas of translational cancer research. Each of the projects will enhance an existing Sydney Vital research program by adding a new direction or element, or by accelerating the generation of impactful research. They each receive a grant of up to $30,000 for the duration of six months.

These are our awardees and their projects:

  • Lead Applicant: Dr Thilo Schuler, Research Institute: Northern Sydney Cancer Centre
    Project Title: PreCASA- An observational pilot study exploring Continuous Assessment and Support Alerts of advanced cancer patients.
  • Lead Applicant: Prof Melanie Lovell, Research Institute: Learning and Research Centre, Palliative Care, HammondCare
    Project Title: The Palliative Care Symptom Action Plan (SAP)- a novel personalised guide for patient self-management with evidence based best practice utilising validated patient reported outcome measures (PROMs)
  • Lead Applicant: Dr Talia Fuchs, Research Institute: Kolling Institute, Northern Clinical School, University of Sydney
    Project Title: KRAS first mutation screening in pancreatic adenocarcinoma: a potentially deliverable and affordable pathway to personalized medicine for all patients with pancreatic cancer
  • Lead Applicant: Prof Alexander Engel, Research Institute: Kolling Institute, Northern Clinical School, University of Sydney
    Project Title: Application of nanoparticles as imaging probes in colonoscopy to improve identification of polypoid changes in colonic mucosa
  • Lead Applicant: Dr Sumit Sahni, Research Institute: Northern Clinical School, University of Sydney
    Project Title: Examining the micro-RNA (miRNA) profile of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas in response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy
  • Lead Applicant: Prof Dale Bailey, Research Institute: Department of Nuclear Medicine, RNSH
    Project Title:
    Upgrading the Scientific Research Environment for Radionuclide Imaging and Therapy Applications
  • Lead Applicant: Prof Mark Molloy, Research Institute: Kolling Institute, Northern Clinical School, University of Sydney
    Project Title: Database of recurrence in Rectal cancer
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A/Prof Angela Chou wins NSW Premier’s Award for Outstanding Cancer Research

This past week, from Monday,  23 November to Friday, 27  November, Cancer Institute NSW announced the winners of the NSW Premier’s Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research 2020.

Sydney Vital would like to congratulate each awardee and especially highlight A/Prof Angela Chou, Sydney Vital seed funding awardee, who was awarded the Outstanding Cancer Research Fellow – Early Career Fellow award. This award is presented each year to an early career researcher who has demonstrated exceptional research progress over the previous calendar year and grants recipients $10,000 towards their research endeavours.

A/Prof Chou was recognised at the NSW Premier’s Awards previously with the Rising Star award in 2015 for her pioneering research in the field of gastrointestinal and pancreatic cancers, which was part of her PhD project at the Garvan Institute. Five years later, she has returned to the awards and is now a cancer researcher at the Kolling Institute at the Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) as well as a practicing diagnostic pathologist at RNSH and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Sydney.

A/Prof Chou’s research focuses on pancreatic cancer, a cancer with a poor five-year relative survival rate (10.7%) that is often detected late, with an eye towards improving treatments and, ultimately, patient outcomes and survival.

“Receiving recognition is flattering and humbling – it is a great honour. The Cancer Institute support has helped me tremendously, giving me the autonomy to develop my skills, confidence and ability as an independent researcher,” A/Prof Chou told CINSW. Read more about her research and her award here.

Winners of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research:

A/Prof Angela ChouOutstanding Cancer Research Fellow – Early Career Fellow Award

Professor Richard Scolyer Outstanding Cancer Researcher of the Year Award

Dr Orazio VittorioOutstanding Cancer Research Fellow – Career Development Fellow

Dr James WilmottWildfire Highly Cited Publication Award

Hunter New England Cancer Clinical Research Network – Outstanding Cancer Clinical Trials Unit

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Dr Yaser Hadi Gholami wins Physics Grand Challenges grant – “This has been my dream ever since I started studying physics”

Sydney Vital is pleased to announce that Dr Yaser Hadi Gholami, former Flagship 3 research fellow and Varian Research Fellow in Theranostics under Flagship 2, has been awarded the prestigious and competitive 2020 Physics Grand Challenges grant.

The Grand Challenges project was initiated by the University of Sydney School of Physics as a way to address the most important and exciting opportunities for physics to drive new discoveries and breakthroughs that will transform the world, and it awards funding of up to $250,000 over two years to interdisciplinary, groundbreaking projects that are difficult to fund from conventional schemes. Dr Gholami’s project, Positronium the key for cancer annihilation, was selected by the Grand Challenges panel this year. Read more about his project and how this funding will impact it in our interview with him below.

Interview with Dr Yaser Hadi Gholami, 2020 Physics Grand Challenges winner

Sydney Vital: First of all, congratulations on your win!

Dr Gholami: Thank you so much, it’s good to hear that.

SV: Who are you collaborating with on this project?

Dr Gholami:  In this project, physicists from different fields will be working with doctors from different fields to solve one of the biggest challenges for humanity – cancer. Specifically, with my multidisciplinary physics team (including medical, nuclear, particle and quantum physicists) from the University of Sydney School of Physics, we will be working with the nuclear medicine team at the Royal North Shore Hospital, led by Prof Dale Bailey, the director of Sydney Vital and a well-known nuclear medicine physicist, and medical doctors and surgeons like Prof Alexander Engel and Prof Mark Molloy. So, we’re really bringing physicists and medical doctors together.

Later on, there will also be an international collaboration with my colleagues at Harvard Medical School. This will be to translate our research into practical application. I am also collaborating with my colleagues at Harvard in the Physics department to develop computer simulations for further theoretical investigation.

SV: What was your reaction when you heard that your project had won?

Dr Gholami has been dreaming of establishing quantum oncology ever since he became a physicist.

Dr Gholami: It felt great, just awesome. This has been my dream ever since I started studying physics. I strongly believe that this will be the first step towards establishing the field of quantum medicine. We will be doing very fundamental work that will help the next generation in taking it further and keep building this field, which is very exciting.

SV: How will this grant support and enhance your research?

Dr Gholami: It’s really what makes the project possible in the first place. It’s a grant given to ideas that would struggle to attain conventional funding, which applies to my project because the idea is quite novel and out there. It’s a great thing to get confirmation from the panel that they see a lot of potential in my idea.

SV: Let’s say your mum asked you at the dinner table what it is that you are doing in this project. How do you explain it to her?

Dr Gholami: (laughs) That’s a good question. Let’s start with the problem that we are trying to solve. The main issue with patients that have cancer is metastasis, that is, the spread of cancer around the body. More than 90% of cancer patients die of metastasis rather than the primary tumour, and research has shown that if we can detect metastases at the very early stages or even spot their potential development before they grow, we can significantly improve the outcomes of patients.

Right now, we’ve got different imaging modalities such as MRI and PET scans to detect metastasis and cancer in the early stages, but we are not yet at a level where we can detect them efficiently. We can’t detect micro-metastases, for instance, because they are really small. In addition to imaging, there’s also what’s called ex-vivo analyses, where we take blood, urine and tissue samples. In this area, all our techniques have too low a sensitivity to pick up what we want. For instance, if we wanted to detect any circulating cancer cells in a blood sample, we’d need at least 100,000 cancer cells (depending on the biopsy technique) in this one sample. This means that we can’t detect cancers and metastases at really early stages, because by the time there are that many cells in a sample, it will already be more advanced.

Our technique, which is a novel antimatter marker, will be able to detect malignant cells with quantum specificity, meaning that we can detect even a very small number of cancer cells in a liquid biopsy or nano-scale metastases in a solid biopsy sample. This will be a real game changer.

SV: At this stage, your mum might ask ‘But how does it work?’

Dr Gholami: Fair enough. So, what we’re trying to do is to create an antimatter marker, which means that we’re using positrons, which are like the ‘anti-version’ of electrons, to detect malignant cells. When a positron and an electron meet, they annihilate each other and emit two photons that we can detect and use to construct an image of the tissue we are scanning, which is how a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan works.

However, our technique not only relies on detecting this, but instead looks at the stage before the annihilation, which is called a positronium, because how this forms highly relies on the physical and chemical structure of the cell it forms in. This is crucial because cancer cells and healthy cells have totally different structures and positroniums forming in each will emit either two gamma rays for a healthy cell or three gamma rays for a cancer cell. The other difference is that the positronium will exist for much longer in a cancer cell than in a healthy cell, and by detecting these differences, we will be able to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells at extremely small quantities and sizes.

SV: How do you plan to use this technique in your project? Will you be developing a new imaging technique?

Dr Gholami:  Initially, we will be working ex-vivo. For this phase, I will be developing a spectrometer called Positron Annihilation Lifetime Spectroscopy (PALS) at the School of Physics, which we will use to derive the quantum properties of different cancer cells. Once this study has been completed, we will translate the PALS results into a new imaging modality, a positronium tomography. This new positronium tomography will then be able detect nano and sub-nano scale metastases, tissues that are undergoing malignancy development, and show us where these are.

SV: Thank you for explaining this so well and we look forward to hearing about the exciting outcomes from your research.

Dr Gholami: Thank you for having me.

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Meet our Round 12 Scholarship Awardees

At Sydney Vital, we run top-up scholarship awards for researchers who propose innovative and outstanding research projects. Our scholarship candidates look to improve examinations for early diagnoses, treatments and quality of life.

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CSIRO ON Program – Applications Open

CSIRO ON Program – Applications Open

CSIRO invites applications for its ON prime program. This helps research teams to develop a deeper understanding of the people who could benefit the most from their research, to test their ideas and to sharpen their skills to communicate with them. It is a national deep-tech innovation program designed to fast-track great research and technology into real world outcomes. If you’ve got an interesting project but need help taking it to the next level, the ON Program can help.

The ON Program is focused on improving Australia’s innovation performance by helping research teams build their entrepreneurial competencies and collaborate more with industry and the broader innovation system to understand and address global challenges. We provide research teams with access to incredible facilitators, mentors, experts and tools to help develop these skills.

For further information please visit About the ON Program

Applications close Monday 10 August.

For assistance with applications please contact Dr Anna Renfrew at [email protected]

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Expression of Interest: Research Trials Coordinator/ Data Manager – RNS Nuclear Medicine

Research Trials Coordinator/ Data Manager – RNS Nuclear Medicine

The Nuclear Medicine Department of Royal North Shore (RNS) Hospital is looking for a part-time research trial coordinator/data manager to support the department’s active research program.

Please find linked position description here

Employment type: Temporary Part-Time until 1 July 2023
Position classification: Health Manager level I
Remuneration: $37.53-$50.48 per hour
Hours per week: 15

The role will be based at the RNS campus, contracted initially for a three-year period with the possibility of an extension based on ongoing funding.

For further information please contact Prof Dale Bailey at [email protected].

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Congratulations Harry Marquis for winning the 2020 Arthur M. Weis, PhD, Award in Radiation Dosimetry and Safety

Harry Marquis Winner of the 2020 Arthur M. Weis, PhD, Award in Radiation Dosimetry and Safety

Sydney Vital is delighted to announce that the PhD scholar from Sydney Vital’s Translational Centre of Excellence (TCE) in Neuroendocrine Tumours, Harry Marquis, has been awarded the prestigious 2020 Arthur M. Weis, PhD, Award in Radiation Dosimetry and Safety from the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) for his work titled, “SPECT/CT-based Dosimetry in PRRT: Using Theranostics to Minimise the Impact of the Partial Volume Effect”.

The Arthur M. Weis, PhD, Award in Radiation Dosimetry and Safety recognises outstanding original work in radiation safety and dosimetry at the largest international meeting for nuclear medicine held annually.

Harry Marquis was awarded the Sydney Vital Neuroendocrine Tumour Postgraduate Scholarship for 3 yrs in October of 2018 and continues to work closely under the supervision of Professors Nick Pavlakis and Dale Bailey in the field of Neuroendocrine Tumour imaging and therapy, one of Sydney Vital’s seven Translational Centres of Excellence.

Congratulations to Harry on this wonderful achievement.

For more information on Sydney Vital scholarships please visit sydneyvital.org.au or contact the Sydney Vital Translational Cancer Research Centre Manager, Suzie Nguyen, at [email protected].

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Sydney Vital Digital Marketing and Communications Officer

Digital Marketing and Communications Officer

Sydney Vital would like to welcome Alan Rawcliffe as their new Digital Marketing and Communications Officer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts, Major in International Communications, and a Bachelor of Philosophy from Macquarie University.

Alan has worked closely with medical professionals, academics and small businesses, focusing on process optimisation and digital marketing modelling inclusive of: writing copy for products and services, SEO optimisation, graphic and logo design, developing strategic business continuity plans as well as digital marketing and website development.

Alan is available to directly support the members of Sydney Vital and is responsible for the following:

Social Media, Marketing and Virtual Support

  • Website content updates including funding and grant opportunities for associated organisations
  • Social media content creation inclusive of the preparation of copy and graphic design
  • Membership management and portal enquires

Events, Webinars and Podcasts

Sydney Vital membership encompasses researchers, clinicians and a variety of business professionals who are crucial in the continuation of translation cancer research.  While the attendance at physical events is currently inhibited, our podcast and webinar series’ are a core structure of presenting our members and their work to the wider community.  If you are a member of Sydney Vital and would like to participate, please ensure you reach out to Alan.

Alan can be contacted via email at [email protected], and is available to chat via Zoom Tuesday – Friday.  Whether it be for advice, to collaborate, or just for a chat he is always happy to help!

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Sydney Vital Research Development Manager

Sydney Vital Research Development Manager

Sydney Vital is delighted to welcome Anna Renfrew to the team as the new Research Development Manager.  Anna has over 12 years experience in developing small molecules for therapy, imaging and drug delivery in cancer research.

Originally from Scotland, Anna worked at the EPFL Switzerland and Insitut Laue Langevin, France before moving to the University of Sydney as an ARC DECRA Fellow at the School of Chemistry.  In 2018 she became the Executive Officer of the Drug Discovery Initiative, a University of Sydney centre for enabling early stage drug development research.

Anna is available to provide assistance and guidance across all stages of our member’s research programs including:

Funding proposals

  • Identifying funding opportunities from cancer research funders, industry and government schemes, and philanthropic bodies
  • Providing early advice and strategic planning on funding proposals
  • Offering advice on regulations, policies and procedures in relation to the proposed research program
  • Providing feedback on draft proposals, reviews and unsuccessful proposals


  • Identifying areas for collaboration both internally and with other research centres and institutes
  • Coordinating major cross-disciplinary research funding proposals involving multiple teams of researchers
  • Facilitating engagement with industry partners

Anna will be working at the Sydney Vital office on Wednesdays and Fridays and is always happy to connect via Zoom or email at [email protected].

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CALL FOR APPLICATIONS: Research Fellowship in the area of Nano Oncology

Research Fellowship in the area of Nano Oncology

Applications are invited from suitably qualified researchers for a Research Fellowship under Sydney Vital Flagship Program 3: Nano-Oncology. The fellowship will be primarily suited to a postdoctoral researcher with experience in translational cancer research.

The position will be based in the laboratory of a researcher who is a member of Sydney Vital. It is expected that the scope of the proposed research project would align with the flagship’s current program which focuses on the improved diagnosis and management of lymph node metastases in particular, but not exclusive, to colorectal cancer in solid tumours.

The appointee will be offered an academic Level A step 7 for 11 months.

Applications must be submitted by email in pdf form to Sydney Vital Administration at: [email protected], by Monday 13th July 2020.

Applications received after Monday 13th July 2020 will not be accepted.

For more information including selection criteria and conditions of the award please see the complete application guidelines below:

For more information please contact Sydney Vital at: [email protected]
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