Cancer researcher wins $1.25M CSL Centenary Fellowship

27 October 2021
Key Researchers
Laboratory Head
Dr Stephin Vervoort has been awarded a 2022 CSL Centenary Fellowship to fund his research to find new treatments for leukaemia and other types of cancers.

Dr Stephin Vervoort will use his funding to establish a laboratory at WEHI, where he will unravel fundamental steps in transcription of DNA into mRNA. He will use that knowledge to identify new drug targets to attack acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and other hard to treat cancers.

Dr Vervoort was one of two awardees of the $1.25 million, five-year fellowships, with Associate Professor Daniel Watterson from the University of Queensland. The fellowships were presented at the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences Annual Meeting 2021 on Wednesday 27 October.

Unravelling transcription

Dr Stephin Vervoort is currently a researcher at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and will join WEHI as a laboratory head in March 2022.

He said his passion was to deepen our understanding of transcriptional regulation and apply it to cancer.

“We used to regard gene regulation as a fairly simple on/off system. Now we understand that there’s a multi-layered regulatory network that controls when and where genes should be activated. It’s critical for normal development,” he said.

“What we’ve also come to realise is that recurrent mutations in the key components that regulate this machine are causal factors for many blood cancers, in particular acute myeloid leukaemia.”

He said AML was difficult to manage and treat, and adult patients had a five-year survival rate of less than 25 per cent.

“I want to understand how RNA polymerase II works and how it is dysregulated in cancer. I want to use that knowledge to identify novel drug targets and ultimately find small-molecule drugs that could be used to treat AML and other cancers,” Dr Vervoort

His research will bring together molecular biology, state-of-the-art genomics, bioinformatics and cancer biology.

“Over the next decade, I hope my work will benefit cancer patients significantly by opening up new treatment avenues that have the potential to increase survival and improve overall quality of life,” he said.

Supporting future leaders

CSL Chief Scientific Officer Dr Andrew Nash said Dr Vervoort and Associate Professor Watterson would both generate fundamental knowledge that could transform how we fight disease.

“Daniel and Stephin are both advancing fundamental human knowledge, but with potential practical applications for future pandemics and for cancer,” he said.

“It is this long-term purpose that the CSL Centenary Fellowships aim to support, by providing funding stability for leading mid-career Australian researchers and delivering on our promise to foster a thriving medical research community.”

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