ABOUT ETHAN'S FELLOWSHIP
The Ethan Davies Fellowship was established by Shannon and Christie-Lee Davies in recognition of their son Ethan, who is a survivor of paediatric ependymoma. The Fellowship aims to enhance the research strategy of the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre by providing support for “inbound” and “outbound” visiting fellows to undertake collaborative childhood brain cancer research.
Fellowship recipients are asked to use these opportunities in part to establish collaborative links with paediatric ependymoma researchers worldwide for the benefit of the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre and the international cancer research community.
Fellowship funds also support ad hoc initiatives that assist in the establishment of collaborative links between the Telethon Kids Institute and other research institutions around the world.
The Fellowship builds on the success of the Ethan Davies Scholarship for Brain Cancer Research, which was established by Shannon and Christie-Lee in May 2012.
With the support of the Ethan Davies Fellowship, the Telethon Kids Institute hopes to accelerate the development and introduction of new and improved treatments to prevent and better treat this devastating cause of illness in children.
GENERAL ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA
Scientists from the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre who wish to undertake a body of work for four to eight weeks within renowned research centres/facilities outside of Western Australia.
All researchers within the Centre who are involved in research directly or indirectly relevant to paediatric brain cancer are eligible to apply.
Preference will be given to applicants who intend to undertake a program of work specifically relevant to paediatric ependymoma.
Applicants who are not involved specifically in this research field, but do intend to spend the Fellowship period at an institution where research into paediatric ependymoma is conducted are eligible to apply.
Researchers from outside Western Australia who wish to spend dedicated time at the Institute for a period of four to eight weeks in collaboration with the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre are eligible.
Successful applicants will be able to demonstrate a path to collaboration with the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre.
Candidates will be identified by the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre as being excellent scientific collaborators and will be invited to apply for an inbound Fellowship.
Dr Sam Greenall (2016)
Hailing from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Dr Greenall is an expert in evaluating and testing different drugs and therapies for the treatment of adult and paediatric brain cancers.
He has eight years' experience in this field, and has been successful in identifying new types of therapies and novel strategies for the better treatment of brain cancers. He is also well trained in the establishment and use of clinically relevant forms of patient-derived brain cancer tissue culture.
As an Ethan Davies Fellow, Dr Greenall is tackling the problem of getting patient-derived ependymoma to grow in dishes in the laboratory.
At present, the only way to grow these tumours is in mice which, whilst a breakthrough achievement, is not effective for screening hundreds of drugs simultaneously to see which is most active at killing tumour cells.
Ethan's Fellowship will allow Dr Greenall to characterise exactly what factors allow ependymoma tumours to grow in patients and mice. Once identified, these factors can then be transferred to a special medium in the laboratory in an attempt to get the tumour cells to grow in a dish. If successful, this research will pave the way for researchers at the Telethon Kids and Hudson Institutes to use cultures to screen drugs rapidly and effectively, quickly identifying any agents that kill ependymoma tumours for transfer into the clinic.
Dr Laura Genovesi (2017)
Dr Genovesi, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience in Brisbane, is an expert in utilising network approaches to identify genes driving aggressive forms of medulloblastoma (MB), a form of paediatric brain cancer. She is working to try to understand how and why these networks of genes drive more aggressive disease in some children, and whether blocking these gene networks with existing drugs will be effective in treating patients with MB.
She has nine years of experience in the field and has recently successfully validated a novel targeted therapy for several subgroups of MB, with this data forming the basis of a Phase I clinical trial in paediatric patients with central nervous system tumours.
As an Ethan Davies Fellow, Dr Genovesi will be involved in evaluating the efficacy of these network-derived novel targeted therapies in combination with existing therapies. At present, combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy is firmly established as standard clinical practice for children diagnosed with MB, and therefore effective and realistic preclinical evaluation of any promising biological targeted therapy is required in the context of existing treatment practices.
The Telethon Kids Institute's access to an X-RAD irradiation machine allows for highly accurate, image-guided irradiation to animal models. Together with researchers from Telethon Kids, Ethan's Fellowship will allow Dr Genovesi to utilise this unique resource to complete the appropriate in vivo preclinical experiments key to translating these new drugs to the clinic, and to ultimately improve patient outcomes.
The fellowship will also establish a formal collaboration between the Telethon Kids Institute’s Brain Tumour Research Team and the laboratory for Cancer and Cell Signalling at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland.
Ashleigh Lester (2018)
Ashleigh Lester is currently undertaking a PhD at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre in Sydney, examining the molecular basis of ependymomas arising in the brain and investigating novel treatments for these tumours.
While significant advances have been made in the molecular characterisation and identification of distinct subgroups of ependymomas, this knowledge has yet to be translated into patient treatments. This is in part due to the difficulties in establishing preclinical models, which are required to test the effectiveness of treatments before they can proceed to the clinic.
As part of her PhD, Ashleigh is collecting ependymoma samples for the purpose of establishing preclinical models, with the overarching aim of testing subgroup specific treatments in these models. To date, Ashleigh has successfully established two patient-derived ependymoma cell lines, with cells from one of these patient samples resulting in the formation of new tumours. Drug screens carried out on the samples have also identified several promising drugs which she is currently investigating in the established models.
Having been diagnosed with a spinal ependymoma as an adolescent, Ashleigh is passionate about improving treatments for these rare tumours, and is looking forward to the opportunity to work with experts in ependymoma research at the Telethon Kids Institute.
The Fellowship will also pave the way for future collaborations between the Brain Tumour Research Group at Telethon Kids and the Cure Brain Cancer Neuro-oncology Group in Sydney, across a range of brain tumours.
Dr Emily Fletcher (2019)
As an Ethan Davies Fellow, Dr Emily Fletcher will undertake the Ion Channel Drugs for the Treatment of Aggressive Childhood Brain Tumours project, led by Professor Terry Johns and co-funded by the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation.
Dr Emily Fletcher is a world leading expert in understanding how variations in genes can cause the dysfunction of specialised proteins called ion channels. These variations underlie many neurological disorders including brain tumour progression. Ion channels are pores in cell membranes, which allow electrically charged metal ions to pass from one side of the cell membrane to the other, generating small electrical currents that are fundamental to spinal cord and brain function. Drugs to treat neurological disorders often target ion channels to rectify their function, but their effectiveness can vary greatly between individuals.
Dr Fletcher’s eight years of research in the field has focused on understanding how subtle changes in the genes of patients suffering from epilepsy, motor neuron disease and neuropathic pain can change the behaviour of their ion channels, and thus their response to therapeutic drugs. Similarly, mediated by changes in ion channels, cancerous brain tumours such as diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPGs) and ependymomas are “plastic” and can dynamically alter their composition in response to conventional cancer drug therapy, developing resistance. Consequently, successful targeted therapies available for many cancers are ineffective for DIPG and ependymoma treatment.
As the first internationally-sourced Ethan Davies Fellow, Dr Fletcher will be involved in identifying key changes in ion channels from a diverse panel of patient-derived DIPG and ependymoma cells that potentially mediate tumour plasticity. Using state-of-the-art biophysical and biochemical techniques, she will characterise the ion channels on the surface of these cells and functionally test the anti-tumour activity of ion-channel-targeting drugs. Ethan’s Fellowship will allow her to further determine whether combination therapy of ion-channel-targeting and conventional anti-cancer drugs will prevent tumour growth in DIPG and ependymoma models. If successful, drug combinations determined by this research could be rapidly translated to the clinic, greatly improving patient treatment and survival.
With experience at the University of Cambridge and Columbia University Medical Centre, Dr Fletcher has now moved to Australia to apply her expertise in this area to develop new brain cancer treatments.