Research Student Education

Research Student Education

Date of publication: 
June 9, 2015

Research Student Educaiton at CONCERT

An important objective of CONCERT is education and training of the next generation of researchers and clinicians, with students being the engine room of progress and innovations. Higher degree students come with various professional backgrounds, including academic, clinical and health service provider expertise. Student research focuses on many different aspects of the cancer journey of patients and their careers, ranging from early discovery and proof-of principle to scale-up and implementation phases of the translational research tiers. CONCERT takes great pride in fostering a vibrant student community, through seminars & workshops, webpage communication and financial support such as our PhD TopUp Program.



Daniel Brungs  (MBBS, MMed FRACP)

PhD Project:       Biomarkers and Primary Cell Cultures of Gastric Cancer

Supervisor (s):  Prof Marie Ranson, UoW

Co-supervisor(s):Dr Kara Perrow, A/Prof Morteza Aghmesheh, A/Prof Therese Becker,  Dr Martin Carolan

Other collaborators: Dr Alistair Lochhead, Dr Mouhannad Jaber, Dr David Swartz, Dr Nicolas Hirst, Dr William Fox, Dr Weng Ng, Dr Neil Merrett,  Dr Ray Asghari, Dr Amitabha Das, Dr Nicole Caixeiro, Dr Michael Talbot, Dr Paul De Souza.

Brief Introduction of project:

My project has several aims with the overarching goal of improving the personalisation of systemic treatment in gastric cancer. Firstly, we hope to identify biomarkers which determine response to neoadjuvant therapy and predict outcomes in resectable gastric cancer. Secondly, we are developing patient derived cell cultures for comprehensive molecular characterisation, comparison to primary tumours, and in vitro drug testing. Thirdly we are investigating the potential for circulating tumour cells to be used as real-time drug sensitivity models.


CONCERT clinical PhD scholarship, Cancer Institute NSW. Funded in part by ISHLHD


Brungs D, Aghmesheh M, Vine KL, Becker TM, Carolan MG, and Ranson M. Gastric cancer stem cells: evidence, potential markers, and clinical implications. Journal of Gastroenterology. In press, accepted Sept 2015


Eleanor Law

Ph.D. Project:    The impact of a colorectal cancer diagnosis on patients and carers from a biopsychosocial perspective

Supervisor(s): Afaf Girgis, Dr. Janelle Levesque

Co-supervisor(s): Dr. Sylvie Lambert

Other collaborator(s):  Dr. Hilda Pickett

Brief introduction of the project:

My PhD project is exploring the impact of a colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnosis for both patients and caregivers, from a biological, psychological and health utilisation perspective. This projecxt is two-fold, the first involving biomarker analysis (including telomere length) and its relationship with psychosocial predictors of poorer outcomes among CRC patients and their caregivers. The second, a qualitative research sub-study exploring the impact of the health utilisation environment for colorectal patients and carers- in particular the exploration of support networks within the treating environment and how patients/carers perceive that support and its importance.


  • Psycho-oncology PhD Scholarship, Ingham Institute of Applied Medical Research
  • Research grant, Private Practice Research Fund, Canberra Hospital


Stephanie Lim

Ph.D. Project:    "Novel Biomarkers in Rectal Cancer"

Supervisor(s): Prof. Paul De Souza

Co-supervisor(s): Dr Wei Chua, Dr Weng Ng, A/Prof Kevin Spring

Other collaborator(s):  Dr. Christopher Henderson, Dr Joo-Shik Shin, Prof. Soon Lee, A/Prof Therese Becker, Joseph Descallar, Professor Les Bokey, Dr. Scott Mackenzie, Dr. Ray Asghari, Dr. Lorraine Chantrill, Dr. Nicole Caixeiro, Dr. Norbert Kienzle, Dr. Annette Tognela, Professor John Rasko, Christina Cheng, Prof. Michael Solomon, Dr. Karen Wong, Dr. Mark Lee, Dr. Michael Lin

Brief introduction of the project:

My primary project focuses on the neoadjuvant phase of treatment in locally advanced rectal cancer. This comprises chemoradiation followed by surgery. There is need for biomarkers to determine response and predict outcomes, and to ultimately improve patient selection and personalise therapy appropriately. Liquid biopsies measure circulating tumour cells (CTCs) or circulating tumour nucleic acids (ctNAs) from blood. These CTCs and ctNAs are prognostic in metastatic colorectal cancer, however work on rectal cancers is very much lacking. It is my aim to isolate and measure CTCs and ctnAs in patients with LARC treated with trimodality therapy. CTC and ctNAs will be measured at three time-points during treatment. These novel biomarkers will be correlated with tumour response to therapy, as well as to other conventional biomarkers.


  1. SH Lim, W Chua, C Henderson, W Ng, J-S Shin, L Chantrill, R Asghari, CS Lee, KJ Spring and P de Souza. Predictive and prognostic biomarkers for neoadjuvant chemoradiation in locally advanced rectal cancer. Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology 2015, doi:10.1016/j.critrevonc.2015.05.003
  2. T. G. Tut, S. H. S. Lim, I. U. Dissanayake, J. Descallar, W. Chua, W. Ng, P. de Souza, J-S Shin and C. S. Lee. Upregulated Polo-like Kinase 1 Expression Correlates with Inferior Survival Outcomes in Rectal Cancer. PLOS One, 2015 Jun 5;10(6):e0129313. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0129313
  3. S.H. Lim, T.M. Becker, W. Chua,W.L. Ng, P. de Souza and K.J. Spring. Circulating tumour cells and the epithelial mesenchymal transition in colorectal cancer. J Clin Pathol. 2014 Jul 9. pii: jclinpath-2014-202499. doi: 10.1136/jclinpath-2014-202499
  4. Lim SH, Becker TM, Chua W, Caixeiro NJ, Ng WL, Kienzle N, Tognela A, Lumba S, Rasko JE, de Souza P and Spring KJ.Circulating tumour cells and circulating free nucleic acid as prognostic and predictive biomarkers in colorectal cancer. Cancer Letters 2014; 346 (1): 24-33; doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2013.12.019
  5. Stephanie H. Lim, Wei Chua, Christina Cheng, Joseph Descallar, Weng Ng, Michael Solomon, Les Bokey, Karen Wong, Mark T. Lee, Paul de Souza, Joo-Shik Shin and Cheok Soon Lee. Effect of Neoadjuvant Chemoradiation on Tumour Infiltrating/associated Lymphocytes in Locally Advanced Rectal Cancers. Anticancer Research 2014; 34 (11): 6505-13
  6. S.H. Lim. 2014, Rectal Cancer in M. Schwab (ed), Encyclopedia of Cancer, Springer reference
  7. S.H. Lim, K.J. Spring, P. de Souza, S. MacKenzie, L. Bokey. Circulating tumour cells and circulating nucleic acids as a measure of tumour dissemination in non-metastatic colorectal cancer surgery. European Journal of Surgical Oncology 2014; 34: 6505-13
  8. N.J. Caixeiro, N. Kienzle, S.H. Lim, K.J. Spring, A. Tognela, K. F. Scott, P. de Souza and T.M. Becker. Circulating tumor cells – a bona-fide cause of metastatic cancer. Cancer metastasis reviews; doi: 10.1007/s10555-014-9502-8
  9. Becker TM, Caixeiro NJ, Lim SH, Tognela A, Kienzle N, Scott KF, Spring KJ and de Souza P. New frontiers in circulating tumor cell analysis: A reference guide for biomolecular profiling toward translational clinical use. Int. J. Cancer. 2014; 134 (11): 2523-33; doi: 10.1002/ijc.28516


  • Australia Postgraduate Award (APA), University of New South Wales
  • South Western Sydney Local Health District and Ingham Institute Research Scholarship
  • Postgraduate Research Support Scheme Award, University of New South Wales
  • Ingham Translational Colorectal Cancer Scholarship


Wayne Ng

Ph.D. Project:    Molecular interactions of the polo-like kinases in colorectal carcinoma

Supervisor(s): Prof. Cheok Soon Lee

Co-supervisor(s): Dr. Joo-Shik Shin, Dr. Bin Wang

Brief introduction of the project:

My project involves finding the predictive value of radioresponses in colorectal tumor, the interaction between PLK1 and microsatellite stability in the tumour cells and the discovery of the upstream causes of PLK1 elevation. Briefly, I first look at the expression patterns of PLK1 after irradiation in microsatellite stable and unstable cells.  On one hand, I knock down the PLK1 expression by siRNA technique to see if this would radiosensitise the cells.  On the other hand, I am also checking the mutation and polymorphisms in the PLK1 gene that might change PLK1 expression in the cells by sequencing. Hopefully, by the end my PhD, I may be able to verify the predictive value of PLK1 on radiosensitivity and have a better understanding of the interactions between PLK1 and irradiation in the colorectal tumour.


Molecular Pathology Research Scholarship and Professor Kai Yip Cho Memorial Scholarship


Joseph Po

PhD Project:   “Biology of circulating tumour cells in patients with advanced ovarian cancer: Does epithelial to mesenchymal transition contribute to chemo resistance?”

Commencement: 2014

Supervisor:  A/Prof. Therese Becker

Co-supervisor(s):  Prof.Paul de Souza, Prof Anna deFazio

Other collaborator(s):  Dr Michelle Harrison, Dr. Diana Adams

Brief introduction of the project:

This project investigates circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in advanced ovarian cancer patients. Our hypothesis is that by isolation and analysis of CTCs we can predict how well a patient responds to therapy and importantly we believe that CTC analysis can predict therapy failure long before current clinical tests. Initially my task was to improve on ovarian cancer CTC isolation with focus on the type of CTCs that we believe will predict resistance to therapy. This work was successful and we can isolate CTCs from advanced ovarian cancer patients now 3x more efficiently than common methods. These data were presented at the Lorne Cancer Conference 2015 and are currently written up in a research manuscript.

My improved CTC isolation method will now be used on a larger scale to test if detecting ovarian cancer biomarkers can help to determine if a patient will exhibit resistance to chemotherapy treatment. My studies also involve in vitro tissue culture experiements to establish the functional mechanism of ovarian cancer resistance to the common platinum therapies.

Published abstracts:

  1. Becker, T.M., Spring, K.J., MacKenzie, S., Warkiani, M.E., Ma, Y., Lim, S.H., Po, J.W., de Souza, P. The utility of circulating tumor cells and DNA in cancer therapy. Molecular Med Tri-Con 2015, San Francisco
  2. Po, J.W., DeFazio, A., Harrison, M., Chen, F., Harnett, P.R., de Souza, P., Becker, T.M. Efficient immunomagnetic isolation of ovarian circulating tumor cells. Lorne Cancer Conference 2015. For this poster presentation I was awarded a student travel award from the conference organizer
  3. Becker, T.M., Spring, K.J., MacKenzie, S., Warkiani, M.E., Ma, Y., Lim, S.H., Po, J.W., de Souza P. The utility of circulating tumor cells and DNA in cancer therapy. Lorne Cancer Conference 2015
  4. Po, J.W. Ovarian Cancer, Circulating tumor cells and platinum resistance, Presentation at a Liverpool Hospital Medical Oncologists departmental meeting, Oct 2014
  5. Some of the initial data were presented at the Thomas Ashworth CTC Symposium by my supervisor A/Prof T. Becker, Immunomagnetic CTC isolation: Beyond EpCAM targeting, Hilton Sydney, Aug 2014
  6. Po, J.W. 3 minute thesis, Presentation at HDR Research Forum, Kingswood UWS, June, 2014
  7. Po, J.W. Ovarian Cancer CTC Study, Presentation at the Rotary Club Liverpool, Eggtober Foundation Event, May 2014

Manuscripts in preparation:

  1. Po, J.W., de Fazio, A., Harnett, P.R., de Souza      P., Becker, T.M. Epithelial to      Mesenchymal Transition Phenotype and Circulating Tumour Cells as      Biomarkers of Platinum Resistance in Ovarian Cancer (under revision)
  2. Po,      J.W., de Fazio, A., Harnett, P.R., de Souza P., Becker, T.M.Efficient immunomagnetic isolation of      ovarian circulating tumor cells with epithelial to mesenchymal phonotype      traits.(manuscript      in preparation)


  • Recipient of Australian Rotary Health/Rotary Club of Liverpool West, Gynecological Oncology PhD Scholarship
  • Recipient of student travel award from the Lornce Cancer Conference Organizer


Srinivasa Pothula

Ph.D. Project:    “Targetting HGF/c-Met pathway in inhibiting the stromal-tumour interactions in Pancreatic Cancer”

Supervisor(s): Prof. Minoti Apte

Co-supervisor(s): Prof. Jeremy Wilson

Other collaborator(s):  Prof. Ron Pirola, Prof. David Goldstein

Brief introduction of the project:

Stromal reaction in pancreatic cancer contributes to its progression by facilitating local growth and distant metastasis. Pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs, which produce dense stroma) interact with cancer cells to facilitate progression of pancreatic cancer. A candidate pathway that may mediate this interaction is the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its receptor c-MET pathway.

My thesis focuses on defining the role of HGF/c-Met pathways in pancreatic cancer, particularly with reference to the stromal-tumour interactions that significantly influence tumour behaviour. Inhibition of these growth factors, both in vitro (using stromal-cancer cell co-cultures) and in vivo (Using an orthotopic tumour model), to study the effect on tumour progression is the snapshot of my methodology. Our findings from this project are aimed at developing a novel approach that blocks critical pathways mediating stromal-tumour interactions in pancreatic cancer. We believe that such a targeted approach, alone or in combination with chemotherapy, is the key to improving patient outcome in this disease.


  1. Apte MV, Xu Z, Pothula SP, Pirola RC, Wilson JS. Pancreatic Cancer: The Microenvironment Needs Attention Too!! Pancreatology 2015 March; DOI:10.1016/j.pan.2015.02.013
  2. Patel MB, Pothula SP, Xu Z, Lee AK, Goldstein D, Pirola RC, Apte MV, Wilson JS. The role of the hepatocyte growth factor/c-MET pathway in pancreatic stellate cell-endothelial cell interactions: antiangiogenic implications in pancreatic cancer. Carcinogenesis. 2014 Aug;35(8):1891-900. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgu122. PubMed PMID: 24876152
  3. Xu Z, Pothula SP, Wilson JS, Apte MV. Pancreatic cancer and its stroma: a conspiracy theory. World J Gastroenterol. 2014 Aug 28;20(32):11216-29. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v20.i32.11216. PubMed PMID: 25170206; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4145760.


  • Hirshberg Foundation award for best oral presentation from Australasian Pancreatic club at the annual meeting, Gastro-2015, Brisbane.
  • Recipient of travel award from Australasian Pancreatic club at the joint meeting with Australian Health and Medical Research Congress, 2014.
  • Recipient of travel grant from the International Association of Pancreatology at Combined EPC & IAP meetings, Southampton, UK, 2014.
  • Recipient of young investigator travel grant from the American Pancreatic Association at 44th Annual meetings, Miami, USA, 2013.
  • Recipient of Ingham/ SWSLHD research support grant for 2014.
  • Recipient of Translational Cancer Research Unit (TCRU) scholarship from UNSW/ Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, Sydney, Australia. (2012-2015)
  • Recipient of Tuition Fee Scholarship from Faculty of Medicine, UNSW, Sydney, Australia.
  • Recipient of Pathways to doctorate program fellowship from Texas A & M University, College Station, TX, USA.
  • First place winner in life sciences section of Pathways research symposium, TAMIU, Laredo, TX, USA.
  • Recipient of Welch scholarship from Department of Chemistry, Texas A & M University-Kingsville, USA.


Brendan Whelan

Ph.D. Project:    Maximising the mutual interoperability of an MRI scanner and a cancer therapy particle accelerator

Supervisor(s): Paul Keall

Co-supervisor(s): Lois Holloway

Other collaborator(s):  Rebecca Eahrig

Brief introduction of the project:

I work on quantifying the impact of electro-magnetic coupling in the MRI-Linac project. The aim of this project is to develop next generation cancer therapy treatment, in which changing tumour anatomy and physiology can be visualized in real time. I use computational simulations to investigate the basic physical behavior of our prototype system. My work requires application of a wide range of fundamental physics, including electrodynamics, microwave engineering, thermodynamics, and special relativity.


  • 2012-2015: Ingham Institute PhD Scholarship
  • 2012-2015: SWSCS Radiation Oncology Student Scholarships
  • 2013: Sydney Medical School Travelling Fellowship
  • 2014: Ingham Institute Research Scholarship
  • 2014: Visiting student researcher, Stanford University
  • 2014: Best postgraduate talk, MedPhys 2015