Pioneering cancer researchers in the running for Eureka glory

19 July 2023
L-R Tim Thomas and Anne Voss standing in a laboratory.

WEHI researchers Associate Professor Tim Thomas and Professor Anne Voss have been named finalists in this year’s Australian Museum Eureka Prizes for their research that spearheaded a new anti-cancer strategy.

The nomination honours their work in developing an entirely new and innovative approach to cancer treatment, where cancer cells can be attacked without the harmful side effects caused by conventional therapies like chemotherapy and radiation.

The Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring research excellence across a range of scientific fields.

At a glance
Associate Professor Tim Thomas and Professor Anne Voss have been nominated as finalists in the 2023 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research.
The pair identified a novel approach to cancer treatment that can put cancer cells ‘to sleep’, without the harmful side effects caused by conventional therapies. 
The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are one of Australia’s most distinguished science awards, honouring excellence across the areas of research & innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.

Revolutionary cancer treatment

Uncontrolled growth of cancer cells significantly affects a patient’s chances of recovering from the disease.

Chemotherapy and radiation are two common treatments used to destroy or stop the growth of cancer cells, to prevent tumours from spreading.

But these treatments can also affect healthy cells and damage the cells’ DNA, leading to debilitating side effects, including hair loss, fatigue and nausea.

Assoc Prof Thomas and Prof Voss, with collaborators, developed a new class of anti-cancer drugs that can arrest tumour growth and spread, without damaging the cells’ DNA.

Prof Voss, Head of WEHI’s Epigenetics and Development Division, said the new class of drugs were an exciting advancement for cancer patients around the world.

“The best anti-cancer treatments currently available to patients can still impact their quality of life,” she said.

“This new class of drug compounds stop cancer cells from dividing and proliferating by switching off their ability to continue the cell cycle – essentially putting the cancer cells to sleep.

“As cancer is a disease of excessive cell proliferation, this stops the cancer cells in their track, preventing them from spreading.

“Crucially, in arresting tumour growth, the new compounds do not damage the cells’ DNA. This is a critical difference between this new class of compounds and standard cancer therapies, which work by causing irreversible DNA damage, resulting in damage to healthy cells.”

The research, spanning over a decade, involves a collaboration with the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) and the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx).

Collaborative power

Assoc Prof Thomas said it was an honour to be recognised by the Australian Museum for this pioneering work.

“We believe this novel class of drugs has the potential to be an entirely new weapon for fighting cancer.”
Assoc Prof Thomas, Laboratory Head of WEHI’s Epigenetics and Development Division

“Our research has already shown great promise in halting cancer progression in models of blood and liver cancers. This is a significant step forward in combating the global health challenge of cancer,” Assoc Prof Thomas said.

“Our research involves strong collaborations between experts in cancer research, medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, along with invaluable support of partners and funders.

“Being nominated as finalists’ is a testament to this collaborative power and the unwavering commitment that has underpinned our work towards findings better treatments for a disease that still impacts millions of people worldwide.”

This work was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx) and WEHI.

The Eureka Prize winners will be announced on Wednesday 23 August.

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