Brain cancer (including brain tumours) kills more children than any other disease, and more adults under 40 than any other cancer. In Australia, it claims around one life every seven hours.

This is because brain tumours can spread and invade the brain, causing devastating consequences such as brain swelling.

With your support, we can fund research to:

  • Decrease brain swelling to improve quality of life
  • Reduce invasiveness to enhance surgical brain tumour treatments
  • Impede brain tumour growth to prolong survival

Donate to Brain Tumour Research now.

2021 Research Funded:

Modelling brain cancer to improve treatment for brain cancer

Funding: $43,000

Project: In the most devastating form of brain cancer – glioblastoma – the same few regions of our DNA are commonly mutated. However, despite the low number of these commonly occurring mutations, we know very little about how this actually causes cancer, or how it can help us treat brain cancer more effectively.

By replicating these common genetic mutations in normal brain cells, we have, for the first time, created unique models of brain cancer that represent each major subtype of known glioblastomas. We will characterise these at the finest possible resolution, down to single cells, to understand how brain cancers arise and how we might better intervene to treat them.

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Dr Brett Stringer MBBS PhD Brain Cancer Research Fellow

Flinders University - Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute

Facilitating a safe work environment and the efficient production of high-quality tissue samples for the SA Neurological Tumour Bank

Funding: $32,743

Project: The SA Neurological Tumour Bank(SANTB) obtains brain tumour tissue from the Flinders Medical Centre operating theatres and blood samples which are processed prior to freezing or passing on to research groups.

The SANTB laboratory currently lacks two important pieces of equipment required for processing specimens and relies on using shared and aging equipment in other laboratories. Potentially infectious, these specimens pose a risk to the laboratory staff required to process them and minimising processing time is critical to preserve the integrity of the tissue. Access to this equipment within our laboratory will remove the need to transport potentially infectious specimens between laboratories and streamline our workflow facilitating the rapid and sterile processing of specimens.

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Dr Santosh Poonnoose

FRACS Director of South Australian Neurological Tumour Bank

Flinders University - Department of Neurosurgery

Predicting neurological side-effects of chemotherapies with human brain biopsy assays

Funding: $42,248

Project: Cancer survival rates are the highest they have ever been (69% of all cancers), reflecting advances in early diagnoses and effective treatments (AIHW 2020). While this is a terrific achievement, a new challenge has emerged.

One in three cancer survivors describes long-term side effects undermining their overall quality of life (Macmillan Cancer Support 2013). A significant debilitating side-effect reported is chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment. Patients often experience diminished capacity in memory, processing speeds, attention, executive function, and reduced mental health (Boscher et al. 2020).

Therefore, our project aims to investigate the underlying neurotoxic side-effects of chemotherapies pre-clinically with innovative human brain tissue models.

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Associate Professor Cedric Bardy PhD Director of The Laboratory for Human Neurophysiology & Genetics

Flinders University - College of Medicine and Public Health

Targeting “don’t eat me signal” (CD47) in Glioblastoma

Funding: $42,809

Project: Glioblastoma (GBM) is an aggressive type of brain cancer with a very low median survival (11-15 months). GBM cells adapt to grow in a low oxygen (hypoxia) environment and overexpress ‘don’t eat me’ signals to evade from immune cells.

These mechanisms render GBM cells resistant to therapies. Hypoxia perturbs protein synthesis and damages Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER-stress) which is destructive to cells. GBM cells overcome ER-stress by degrading damaged ER through a process termed as ER-phagy. We propose that inhibiting ER-phagy not only kills GBM cells, it also reduces the expression of ‘don’t eat me’ signals which further promotes GBM clearance.

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Dr Nirmal Robinson M. Pharm, PhD Head, Cellular-Stress and Immune Response Laboratory

University of South Australia - Centre for Cancer Biology

Improving CAR-T cell trafficking to brain tumours

Funding: $43,000

Project: Glioblastomas are aggressive brain tumours with extremely poor patient outcomes. Currently treatment consists of surgical removal, and post-operative radio/chemotherapy. Despite aggressive therapy, the disease invariably progresses or recurs as resistance to chemotherapy drugs develops. Thus, more effective therapies for this cancer are desperately needed.

Immunotherapy, using the patient’s own white blood cells engineered to kill cancer has shown striking outcomes in a number of cancers, but continues to be challenging for glioblastoma therapy. In this project we aim to better engineer these white blood cells so that they can traffic more effectively to the brain where they can kill glioblastoma.

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Dr Briony Gliddon BSc(Hons), PhD Research Fellow

University of South Australia Centre for Cancer Biology

A novel technique for defining brain tumours on MRI

Funding: $38,500

Project: This project will explore the diagnostic utility of a novel magnetic resonance imaging technique known as magnetic resonance fingerprinting.

The project will develop methods such as graphical analysis and visualization tools, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) technology for analysing brain imaging performed in patients with brain cancers undergoing neurosurgery.

The methods will be developed to assist with certain diagnostic dilemmas often encountered by radiologists and neurosurgeons. By resolving these dilemmas pre-operatively, neurosurgeons will be able to better select patients for surgery and improve surgical planning, thereby reducing the risks and promoting the overall safety of neurosurgery.

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Dr Minh-Son To BPharm (Hons), BMath&CompSci (Hons), MBiostat, MD, PhD Casual Professional Research

Flinders University - College of Medicine and Public Health

Analysis of patient tumours to support new immune-based therapies for glioblastoma

Funding: $43,000

Project: Glioblastoma is the deadliest form of brain cancer, with no effective treatments. We are developing a new treatment for glioblastoma, based on a revolutionary type of ‘living drug’ known as CAR-T cells. In this approach, T cells are isolated from a patient’s blood and genetically engineered to give them cancer-killing activity.

These cells are returned to the patient’s bloodstream; they then travel to the tumour to attack it from within. This project will analyse patient tumours to discover molecular pathways that control T cell entry from the bloodstream. This information can then be used to optimise our CAR-T cell therapy.

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Dr Lisa Ebert B.Sc.(Hons), PhD Senior Research Fellow

Central Adelaide Local Health Network, SA Health -Centre for Cancer Biology

Use of artificial intelligence to predict patient’s response to treatment

Funding: $43,000

Project: Glioblastoma is a heartbreaking diagnosis and most of glioblastoma patients are uncertain of the potential benefit they could receive from different available treatment options.

In this project, we will measure, for the first time and patient-by-patient, the survival benefit in glioblastoma patients of different treatment options, including also those currently in clinical trials.

This result would have profound implications in the clinical management of glioblastoma by an enhanced capacity to:

  • Increase treatment options for patients
  • Predict patient response to different therapies
  • Guide personalised treatment

This will constitute a significant advance to improve survival and quality of life for glioblastoma patients.

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Dr Guillermo A. Gomez PhD, Senior Research Fellow, Laboratory Head

University of South Australia - Centre for Cancer Biology

Expansion of the South Australian Neurological Tumour Bank

Funding: $37,270

Project: The South Australian Neurological Tumour Bank (SANTB) currently collects and banks brain and spinal cord tumour tissue samples and clinical information from consenting patients undergoing neurosurgery. These specimens are available to researchers in SA and interstate to facilitate research projects into neurological cancer.

The aim of this project is to greatly expand the existing capabilities of the SANTB by developing the capacity to collect each participant’s imaging data (MRI, CT scans etc) and incorporate the SANTB into PHenotyping Outcomes for clinical Care, Quality, and Service (PHOCQUS), a comprehensive clinical data linkage initiative led by Flinders University.

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Dr Rebecca Ormsby BSc (Hons), PhD Coordinator, SA Neurological Tumour Bank, Research Associate

Flinders University - College of Medicine & Public Health

Developing advanced models of recurrent brain tumours

Value: $25,000

Brain tumours kill more people under 40 than any other cancer. The survival rate for glioblastoma, the most common malignant primary brain tumour in adults, has barely improved due to limited treatment options. Over time, the disease returns and patients quickly succumb.

Current preclinical models of glioblastoma are mostly limited to studies of the original tumour. These models fail to take into account the tumours that recur following short-term success of initial treatment with surgical resection followed by chemoradiotherapy.

We aim to develop advanced preclinical models of recurrent glioblastoma which in future can be used to assess new therapeutic options.

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Dr Melinda Tea BLabMed(Hons), PhD Research Fellow

University of South Australia Centre for Cancer Biology

Towards Better Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Brain Tumours

Funding: $25,000

Project: There is a critical need for better imaging of high grade glioma towards enabling the delivery of more accurately targeted treatment including radiation therapy, a key requirement to prolonging survival without impacting on patients quality of life.

Our research team is developing a magnetic resonance imaging agent that specifically targets cells of the tumour microenvironments, with the aim of providing improved delineation of brain tumours on MRI. This approach has the potential to enable mapping the most aggressive tumor areas which could then receive “boost” radiation doses, including with cutting edge proton therapy and MRI-Linac technologies.

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Prof Benjamin Thierry Bio-eng, PhD Research Professor, Bioengineering UniSA


Optimising a new immunotherapy approach for glioblastoma

Funding: $30,000

Project: Dr Lisa Ebert is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Cancer Biology in Adelaide. Her research focuses on cancer immunotherapy: a new type of cancer treatment that uses a patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. Such approaches are yielding exciting new therapies for some cancer types. Sadly, however, these discoveries are yet to benefit patients with primary brain tumours such as glioblastoma – a devastating disease with no effective treatment that claims the lives of around 1,000 Australians every year.

With the ongoing support of the NRF, Dr Ebert and her team are working to change this outlook, by developing a new treatment for glioblastoma using CAR-T cells. This cutting-edge approach involves ‘super-charging’ a patient’s own immune cells to enable them to specifically destroy cancer cells. With encouraging pre-clinical results, this research is set to enter clinical trials in glioblastoma patients within the next 12-18 months.

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Dr Lisa Ebert

University of South Australia, Centre for Cancer Biology

Targeting Cyclin-dependent kinase 4 in glioblastoma

Funding: $29,972

Project: Glioblastoma is the most commonly diagnosed brain tumour in adults; it is a very aggressive and highly fatal cancer with a median survival of less than 15 months. The poor survival of patients affected by glioblastoma has remained virtually unchanged for the last 30 years. Currently treatment consists of surgical removal, post-operative radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Despite this aggressive therapy, the disease invariably progresses or recurs as resistance to chemotherapy drugs develops. For these reasons, the development of new drug targets and effective targeted therapies for this cancer are essential. Our recently funded NRF grant project aims to use an established clinically relevant mouse model of glioblastoma to test the efficacy of some newly developed drugs which have shown to be highly effective at killing glioblastoma cells by stopping them from dividing.

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Dr Briony Gliddon

University of South Australia, Centre for Cancer Biology

Targeting Endoplasmic Reticulum-specific autophagy using a small molecule to treat glioblastoma

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is an aggressive type of brain cancer with a median survival of 11-15 months. Very little is achieved in extending the life expectancies of patients with the currently available therapies.

The environment in which GBM grows is low in oxygen (hypoxia) which is lethal to normal cells, but cancer cells have evolved mechanisms to adapt and grow. Importantly, these mechanisms also render GBM cells resistant to therapies.

Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) are structures within cells where proteins are produced and has a central role in maintaining cellular homeostasis. Hypoxia in the tumour perturbs protein synthesis and ER (ER-stress) which is destructive to normal cells.

We have discovered that GBM cells overcome ER-stress by degrading stressed parts of ER through a process termed as ER-phagy. We propose that inhibiting ER-phagy using a drug in combination with currently available therapies could be an efficient alternative therapeutic strategy to treat GBM.

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Dr Nirmal Robinson

University of South Australia, Centre for Cancer Biology

Identification and targeting of the master regulators of glioma cancer cell plasticity to overcome therapy resistance in glioblastoma

Funding: $29,856

Project: Significant progress has been made in characterizing genetically and functionally diverse GBM subtypes as well as identifying the key oncogenic signals that drive their progression. However, this knowledge has not advanced clinical management of the disease. Indeed, the list of therapeutic agents in phase III and phase IV clinical trials for GBM reveals that only a few of the known GBM activated signalling pathways are currently being targeted in the clinical space. Lack of pipelines to translate fundamental knowledge into clinical trials, highlights the lack of systematic efforts to target intrinsically heterogeneous GBM tumours.

My laboratory combines expertise in patient derived glioblastoma tumour organoid models, bioprinting and bioengineering approaches with single-cell RNAseq, genome-editing, multiphoton microscopy and artificial intelligence, to develop physiologically relevant patient-derived pre-clinical assays that can be used for pre-clinical test of new therapies against glioblastoma as well as identify the molecular drivers of glioma stem cell plasticity and how they cooperate with the tumour microenvironment to develop resistance.

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Dr Guillermo Gomez

University of South Australia, Centre for Cancer Biology

Inflaming the Brain: Chemotherapy effects on Cognitive Function in Child Cancer Survivors

For children who survive childhood cancer, the burden continues, with up to 70% of survivors experiencing chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment (CICI). CICI impairs attention, and memory, which profoundly impacts academic and social performance, as well as quality of life. To date, the brain changes that give rise to these impairments are unknown. In this study we will determine whether a specific type of inflammation in the brain contributes to CICI development over an acute and chronic time course. The results will facilitate development of targeted therapies for prevention of CICI, in addition to informing clinical assessment protocols and survivorship care plans.

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Dr Alexandra Whittaker

Paediatric Brain Tumour Research, University of Adelaide

Developing a comprehensive glioblastoma brain tumour resource for testing new and existing brain tumour therapies

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most commonly diagnosed malignant brain tumour in adults, affecting approximately 1000 Australian adults annually. With very few treatment options available, it is a highly fatal cancer with a median survival of less than 15 months and less than 5% survival after 5 years. Our goal is to generate a well characterised bank of GBM brain cancer cells, derived from patient tumour tissue, growing in the laboratory and in animals. These cells will provide a powerful resource for GBM research, both locally and nationally, which may lead to improved therapies for these devastating brain tumours.

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Dr Melinda Tea

Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia

Arming a patient’s immune system to treat aggressive brain cancer

Glioblastoma (GBM) is a highly aggressive form of brain cancer. Most patients only survive for around 15 months after diagnosis, and there have been no significant improvements to treatment for more than 10 years. Here, we aim to develop a new and highly targeted treatment for GBM using Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR)-T cells. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own immune system to attack their cancer cells and has shown remarkable success in treating some types of leukaemia. Our new data suggests that we may now be able to adapt this approach to treat GBM.

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Dr Lisa Ebert

Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia

A new approach to deliver drugs to brain tumours

The blood-brain barrier is a major impediment to the treatment of brain tumours. Many drugs that may otherwise have potent anti-brain tumour properties, cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and thus are ineffectual as brain tumour therapeutics. This proposal builds on recent findings that FTY720, an approved drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, can cause short term opening of the blood-brain barrier. Thus, we propose to examine the potential re-purposing of FTY720 to allow the entry of existing anti-cancer drugs across the blood-brain barrier and into brain tumours. Successful outcomes will, therefore, provide new therapeutic strategies to treat brain tumours.

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Dr Briony Gliddon

Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia

Region-specific brain organoids for rapid and personalised pre-clinical test of treatments for glioblastoma

Glioblastoma (GBM) prognosis and treatment is profoundly affected by its anatomic location. Given the importance of tumour location and the microenvironment in GBM progression, there is an urgent need for the development of in-vitro models that facilitate the analysis of brain tumours in a more physiologically and relevant 3D setting. For this we will develop engineered synthetic hydrogel platforms to grow region specific human brain organoids to precisely model GBM progression in patient’s brain anatomical microenvironment. This will permit us to screen for drugs that stop tumour growth and invasion and identify the genes and pathways that drive these processes.

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Dr Guillermo A. Gomez

Centre for Cancer Biology, University of South Australia

Investigating the role of 14-3-3ζ in medulloblastoma, childhood brain cancer

Medulloblastoma arises from abnormal growth of cerebellar granule cells and is the leading cause of cancer-associated death in children. There is a desperate need to understand the molecular defects underlying this malignancy so that new therapies can be devised. Our unpublished work demonstrates that the scaffolding protein 14-3-3 is a key regulator of the sonic hedgehog signalling pathway which is thought to drive the growth of cerebellar granule cells, and medulloblastoma. We now plan to test if removal of 14-3-3 will reduce the burden of medulloblastoma in cell models of this disease.

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Dr Quenten Schwartz, PhD

University of South Australia

The establishment of a comprehensive database management system for the South Australian Neurological Tumour Bank

The SA Neurological Tumour Bank (SANTB) is a not-for-profit resource established to collect and bank blood and neurological tumour tissue from patients undergoing surgery to diagnose or remove their tumour. These specimens are available to researchers in SA and interstate to facilitate research projects into neurological cancer. NRF funds will help to establish and maintain a secure, customizable, web-based database management system to capture and link accurate, reliable and standardized patient clinical data (eg. pathology, treatment, survival) to each specimen. Obtaining comprehensive clinical data is extremely important to maximize the research value of each tumour collected in the drive to improve the outcome of patients with neurological cancer.

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Dr Rebecca Ormsby BSc (Hons)

PhD Coordinator, SA Neurological Tumour Bank

Coordinator, SA Brain Bank at the Centre for Neuroscience (Human Physiology)

Flinders University

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