Leading Cancer Researchers Honoured

11 August 2015

Two teams from the Children’s Cancer Research Unit at Kids Research Institute, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, were honoured at the 2015 Premier's Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research.

A/Prof Dan Catchpoole was awarded the Big Data, Big Impact Award ($60,000), and Dr Geoff McCowage, Dr Belinda Kramer and Prof Ian Alexander were awarded the Excellence in Translational Cancer Research Award ($20,000)

The  ‘big data’ project aims to find better treatment for children with cancer, treatment that is personalised based on complex biomedical data from previous patients. 

The gene therapy research aims to improve the treatment of brain cancer and chemotherapy side effects in children and involves a world first trial for children with aggressive brain tumours.  

A/Prof Dan Catchpoole has been working with UTS Centre for Quantum Computation and Intelligent Systems to process vast amounts of data on childhood cancer.  Bio-Informatics uses computers to process biological data.  Collaborators include UWS (School of Maths), University of Newcastle and Intersect, as well as international colleagues from National Cancer Institute USA, Dana Farber Cancer Institute USA and Queens University Canada.


“We aim to make complex information accessible to clinicians so that they can make decisions on treatment”, explains A/Prof Catchpoole, Head of the Tumour Bank.  “Complex genomic data that is collected from tissue has all the information about the patient’s disease. We aim to remove irrelevant information, leaving the relevant information to help the clinician.”

A brain cancer diagnosis during childhood is particularly devastating given the lethality of this disease, the limited therapy options available, and the toxicity of current treatments. This is despite the best efforts of clinicians and researchers to improve outcomes for these children.

Gene Therapy provides hope as a viable and innovative approach to the treatment of paediatric brain tumours and alleviation of treatment side effects. The Children’s Cancer Gene Therapy team started a world first trial to treat aggressive brain tumours in children.


The trial uses gene therapy in childhood cancer to allow for the protection of bone marrow while using higher doses of chemotherapy


Senior Staff Specialist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead’s Oncology Unit, Dr Geoff McCowage, said: “This innovative treatment opens the door for better treatment for children fighting some of the most serious and life threatening tumours.”


Gene therapy aims for the protection of bone marrow while using higher doses of chemotherapy.

The chemotherapy drugs used have toxic side effects and can destroy healthy bone marrow cells. This leaves the child susceptible to infections. Higher doses could be more effective in treating lethal tumours, however, up until now the toxicities have limited the drug doses that can be used.


This trial aims to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of infusing gene-modified haematopoietic stem cells in children and has been funded by The Kids Cancer Project. Seed funding early in the trial’s development phase was provided by Sporting Chance Foundation.  Radpharm  Scientific also contributed  by manufacturing a critical drug for use in the trial.  


Media Enquiries : Leonie Leonard, Public Relations Manager

Leonie.leonard@health.nsw.gov.au   Tel: +61 (0) 2 9845 3583


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