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Former fellows, where are they now? – Dr Wei Deng

The Sydney Vital Flagship Fellow scheme gives emerging researchers the opportunity to develop their own research program over a period of twelve months, with mentorship from leaders in translational cancer research and access to Sydney Vital’s research infrastructure. We wanted to check in with some of our former fellows and see where they have taken their research careers since the fellowship.

Dr Wei Deng has come far since her fellowship with Sydney Vital. The nano-oncology researcher was the 2017-2018 Flagship 3 fellow, where she worked with flagship leaders Prof Alexander Engel, Prof Ewa Goldys and Prof Zdenka Kuncic.

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Former fellows, where are they now? – A/Prof Haryana Dhillon

The Sydney Vital Flagship Fellow scheme gives emerging researchers the opportunity to develop their own research program over a period of twelve months, with mentorship from leaders in translational cancer research and access to Sydney Vital’s research infrastructure. We wanted to check in with some of our former fellows and see where they have taken their research careers since the fellowship.

A move from Sydney Vital to the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney may not be the most conventional path for a cancer researcher, but for A/Prof Haryana Dhillon, it has paid off.

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Former fellows, where are they now? – Dr Hilary Byrne

The Sydney Vital Flagship Fellow scheme gives emerging researchers the opportunity to develop their own research program over a period of twelve months, with mentorship from leaders in translational cancer research and access to Sydney Vital’s research infrastructure. We wanted to check in with some of our former fellows and see where they have taken their research careers since the fellowship.

Dr Hilary Byrne’s research career is a perfect model of the translational research pathway, from basic science to clinical trials via animal studies. Starting with a PhD focusing on computer simulation of radiation interactions at the sub-cellular scale, the physicist shifted to small animal research with her 2018-2019 Sydney Vital Nano-oncology Flagship Fellowship project, with her main focus remaining on radiotherapy.

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Former fellows, where are they now? – Dr Kelly McKelvey

The Sydney Vital Flagship Fellow scheme gives emerging researchers the opportunity to develop their own research program over a period of twelve months, with mentorship from leaders in translational cancer research and access to Sydney Vital’s research infrastructure. We wanted to check in with some of our former fellows and see where they have taken their research careers since the fellowship.

“The fellowship was a great stepping-stone toward reaching my career goals and establishing myself in the translational brain cancer research field,” Dr Kelly McKelvey says. She was the Flagship 1 Fellow in 2017-2018, and her work today still focuses on finding treatments and therapeutic options for high-grade brain cancers where median survival is currently less than 15 months.

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Former fellows, where are they now? – Dr Yaser Hadi Gholami

The Sydney Vital Flagship Fellow scheme gives emerging researchers the opportunity to develop their own research program over a period of twelve months, with mentorship from leaders in translational cancer research and access to Sydney Vital’s research infrastructure. We wanted to check in with some of our former fellows and see where they have taken their research careers since the fellowship.

Physicist Dr Yaser Hadi Gholami’s passion for making a difference is palpable when he talks about his work: “It’s not just science for science’s sake, it’s science for humanity. That’s what I really love about it. We’re not just physicists, we’re not just nerds, we actually do something that will hopefully serve the community and humanity at large,” he says.

Yaser was the Sydney Vital Nano-oncology Flagship Fellow from 2019 to 2020. He now works as a radiation physicist and physics lecturer at the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, where he is also a postdoctoral research fellow at the Faculty of Medicine and Health working with Sydney Vital Director Professor Dale Bailey.

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New study uses light-activated proteins to fight cancer

An exciting study outlining the development of a new tool for photodynamic therapy (PDT), a selective and minimally invasive cancer treatment, has been published by SV Research Scholar Awardee Dr Dennis Diaz and SV member Dr Andrew Care.

Titled “Bioengineering a Light-Responsive Encapsulin Nanoreactor: A Potential Tool for In Vitro Photodynamic Therapy,” the study was recently published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, a leading journal in the field of nanoscience, and gives a glimpse into how naturally-occurring proteins can be re-programmed to treat cancer.

In a world first, the Care Research Group demonstrated the use of modified protein nanocompartments, called encapsulins, for the successful delivery of a light-activated therapeutic protein that induces tumour cell death.

“By creatively combining the fields of synthetic biology and nanomedicine, we are able to take proteins away from their ‘everyday jobs’ and reprogram them for non-natural applications, like cancer therapy,” Group Leader Dr Care says. “Here, we’ve taken tiny protein nanocompartments that naturally serve as organelles inside bacteria and developed them into biologically-derived tools for PDT.”

To kill tumour cells, first-author Dr Diaz explains, PDT relies on photosensitising agents. When these are triggered by light, they start converting the normal oxygen inside cells into a toxic form of oxygen called ROS (reactive oxygen species). “In this study, we engineered protein nanocompartments to encapsulate photosensitising proteins and deliver them into tumour cells. When we then hit the nanocompartments with light, their protein cargo transformed normal oxygen within the cells into toxic ROS, which killed the tumour cells,” she says.

According to the team, “this technology has significant potential in the personalised treatment of cancers, not only as tool for PDT, but also as a customisable delivery platform for a wide range of therapeutic cargos.”

Dr Diaz and Dr Care talked about the potential of protein-based nanoparticles on Vitalcast two years ago, when they were at the outset of the research journey that led to this publication – listen to the episode here.

Image: A light-activatable ROS-generating encapsulin nanocompartment for in vitro photodynamic therapy (PDT). (a) Diagram showing the cellular delivery, activation and phototoxic effect of encapsulin nanocompartments (Enc) loaded with mini-Singlet Oxygen Generator (Enc-mSOG). Photosensitizing Enc-mSOG enters tumor cells via endocytosis. Upon photoexcitation with blue light, internalized Enc-mSOG converts intracellular O2 into cytotoxic reactive oxygen species (ROS) that induces tumor cell death. (b) Confocal microscopy showing the internalization of fluorescent-labelled Enc (green) by A549 lung cancer cells. (c) Live-cell microscopy of a ROS-sensor (pink) in live A549 cells pre-incubated with Enc or Enc-mSOG and then non-irradiated (Dark) or irradiated with a blue laser (Light). (d) Intracellular ROS levels inside live A549 cells after each treatment; measurements given as normalized integrated density (NI). (e) Cytotoxicity: A549 viability after incubation without (control) or with Enc or Enc-mSOG for different time periods in the dark. Cell viability subsequently determined by MTT assay. (f) Phototoxicity (i.e. in vitro PDT): A549 viability after incubation without (control) or with Enc or Enc-mSOG for different durations in the dark, followed by activation with blue laser light. Cell viability later quantified via MTT assay. Scale bars = 25 µm. Adapted from Diaz et al. ACS Appl Mater Inter 2021 13 (7), 7977-7986.

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CELEBRATING WOMEN IN CANCER RESEARCH: Melanie Lovell

This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day, Sydney Vital is highlighting women at every stage of their careers, from PhD students to professors, and asking them to share their experiences and successes with us. We are immensely proud of the many female researchers we support and employ and whose work is essential in bringing better treatments to patients faster.

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CELEBRATING WOMEN IN CANCER RESEARCH: Ussha Pillai

This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day, Sydney Vital is highlighting women at every stage of their careers, from PhD students to professors, and asking them to share their experiences and successes with us. We are immensely proud of the many female researchers we support and employ and whose work is essential in bringing better treatments to patients faster.

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CELEBRATING WOMEN IN CANCER RESEARCH: Madeleine Juhrmann

This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day, Sydney Vital is highlighting women at every stage of their careers, from PhD students to professors, and asking them to share their experiences and successes with us. We are immensely proud of the many female researchers we support and employ and whose work is essential in bringing better treatments to patients faster.

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CELEBRATING WOMEN IN CANCER RESEARCH: Prof Fran Boyle

This March, to celebrate International Women’s Day, Sydney Vital is highlighting women at every stage of their careers, from PhD students to professors, and asking them to share their experiences and successes with us. We are immensely proud of the many female researchers we support and employ and whose work is essential in bringing better treatments to patients faster.

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