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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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Research Paper By Sydney Vital’s Dr David Chan Widely Read

Dr David Chan, a medical oncologist, has been a Sydney Vital member for over three years. David is especially interested in the area of NETs, uncommon tumours marked by significant heterogeneity in clinical course and prognosis.

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Dr Andrew Care Awarded Early Career Fellowship from Cancer Institute NSW

Dr Andrew Care has been a member of Sydney Vital since 2017 and this year was awarded a 2018 Early Career Fellowship from the Cancer Institute NSW.

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2018 Neuroendocrine Tumour Q&A Session

On the August 9, 2018, Sydney Vital teamed up with The Unicorn Foundation to host the 2018 Neuroendocrine Tumour Q&A Session. The session saw over 100 attendees come together to hear about what’s new in Neuroendocrine Tumours and why research plays a vital role in patient outcomes.
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Fight on The Beaches, Christmas In July

The Bill Walsh Laboratory researchers at this year’s ball

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NSW Premier’s Awards 2018

The annual NSW Premier’s Awards are back.

Hosted by the Cancer Institute NSW, this year the Awards will recognise the achievements of individuals and teams that work in cancer research across NSW and showcase the outstanding work they have put in to lessen the impact of cancer.

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Meet our Scholarship Awardees 2018

At Sydney Vital, we run annual 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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Prof Anthony Gill honoured in the Queen’s Birthday List

We are extremely proud of one of our researchers, Professor Anthony Gill who has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday list. For his significant service to medical research in the field of surgical pathology as an academic, author, adviser and mentor, he has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

Prof Gill is a surgical pathologist, his research focuses on hereditary cancer syndromes, endocrine pathology and gastrointestinal pathology with a special emphasis on pancreaticobiliary pathology.

See the full Queen’s Birthday 2018 Honours list here.

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Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) PhD Research Scholarship – CLOSED

Sydney Vital and The Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital are offering a full time scholarship for a Doctor of Philsophy (Medicine) student at the University of Sydney commencing 2017 or 2018.

Open to:

1. Applicants must have an unconditional offer of admission for full-time studies in the Doctor of Philophy (Medicine) program at the University of Sydney commencing 2017 or 2018.

2. Applicants must be willing to undertake research in a field of research that includes, but is not limited to:
– Prognostic biomarkers in pancreatic cancer-IHC, proteomics, metabolomics
– Role of pancreatitis in adverse outcomes following pancreatic surgery
– Neo-adjuvant chemotherapy in resectable pancreatic cancer
– Nutrition and quality of life in pancreatic cancer or Immune therapy in pancreatic cancer

3. Applicants must hold a Honours degree (First Class or Second Class Upper) and/or a medical degree recognised in Australia.

4. Applicants must be Australian citizens, Australian permanent residents, New Zealand citizens or international applicants eligible for a visa.

Value: $35,000 per annum
Duration: For up to one year, subject to satisfactory academic performance. The recipient may apply for an extension and this may be available if funds are available.

Open Date: Apply Now
Close Date: 2 December

For more information, please visit


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