Cancer treatment ‘brain-gain’ for South Australia

Professor Christopher Sweeney

Professor Christopher Sweeney has been appointed Director of SAiGENCI

South Australian patients with cancer will benefit from world-class cancer research and new treatments with the appointment of three globally-lauded scientists to the University of Adelaide’s South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute (SAiGENCI).

Professor Christopher Sweeney, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has been appointed Director of SAiGENCI.

Distinguished researchers Professor Jose Polo and Associate Professor Luciano Martelotto have also been appointed to senior roles in the institute, representing a major “brain gain” for the state in a field that is critical to the lives and wellbeing of many South Australians.

The three high-profile appointments, two of whom will be joining the institute from Harvard University, will lead research and treatment-development at SAiGENCI, which joins a network of the world’s leading cancer research institutes to meet the global challenge of developing innovative, new strategies for prevention and treatment of cancer patients including in Australia.

"This collaborative investment will ultimately generate more private and public investment opportunities, create new jobs in the public and private healthcare sector while at the same time improve the health of South Australians and Australians at large,"Professor Christopher Sweeney, Director of SAiGENCI

Established with $80 million in funding from the Australian Government, the cancer institute concept and proposal build on the collective efforts of the University, the State Government of South Australia and the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN). The new cancer institute is expected to generate $350 million in research revenue over the next decade.

SAiGENCI will function as an institute within the University of Adelaide and promote collaboration with a national network of cancer research centres. It will attract new research talent to the state, and provide South Australian patients with cutting-edge techniques for accurate and timely diagnoses, as well as new treatments.

Professor Christopher Sweeney
Professor Christopher Sweeney, a Medical Oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston has been appointed Director of SAiGENCI. 

Professor Sweeney received his medical degree from the University of Adelaide in 1992 and completed an internship at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. He did residency in internal medicine at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin and a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology at Indiana University Medical Center, where he was later appointed Associate Director for Clinical Research for the Simon Cancer Center. He joined the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in 2009.
His primary research interest is drug discovery and development. His academic focus is management of genitourinary malignancies, with a focus on prostate and testicular cancer. 

Professor Sweeney is actively engaged in the strategic direction of SAiGENCI already, including the selection and appointment of Group Leaders.  He will visit Adelaide regularly from the start of 2022 as Director Designate and relocate full time towards the end of 2022, supported during this transition period by the existing interim team.

“There was a clear need to build on Adelaide’s current cancer research excellence to be nationally and internationally recognised and this can only be achieved with building technological capacity, supporting the existing excellent SA cancer researchers and recruiting new world class talent to Adelaide,’’ said Professor Sweeney.

“In collaboration with CALHN, the University of Adelaide formed SAiGENCI which will coalesce and build upon the existing excellence and expand the laboratory and clinical research excellence for all of SA – researchers, patients and the general population.

“In short, this collaborative investment will ultimately generate more private and public investment opportunities, create new jobs in the public and private healthcare sector while at the same time improve the health of South Australians and Australians at large.

“My role will be a ‘player-coach’ as I continue my research efforts as well as develop collaborations to facilitate cancer research within and beyond SAiGENCI.”

Professor Jose Polo
Currently at Monash University, Professor Polo has been recruited as the inaugural director of a new Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics within the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide and is also the first group leader appointed at SAiGENCI

The relationship between epigenetics and cancer is well established and under intensive research and Professor Polo will be pivotal in establishing epigenetics capacity within SAiGENCI.

Professor’s Polo’s work in epigenetics spans several fields of research, such as pluripotency, nuclear reprogramming and cancer, where he has investigated the role of the epigenome in the development of lymphoma and the potential of developing an anti-lymphoma therapy and the mechanism by which these work, as well as bringing together reprogramming techniques to control cell identity into novel approaches to research into the treatment of prostate cancer.

In the last 14 years there has been a revolution in this field, leading to an explosion in the use of reprogramming in potential cellular therapies. This process can inform and help in cancer biology research.

“I envision that the work I bring to Adelaide will profoundly impact on the cancer research of SAiGENCI,’’ said Professor Polo.

“Not only will we provide tools and analytical methods to facilitate the understanding of the epigenetic mechanism underpinning several tumorigenic processes but our epigenetic and reprogramming research will also allow the discovery of new targets and, ultimately, therapies.”

Professor Polo will arrive in Adelaide in October.

Associate Professor Luciano Martelotto
A third appointment has also been made – Associate Professor Luciano Martelotto, who will establish the Single Cell and Spatial Technologies Lab within SAiGENCI and the new Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics.

Associate Professor Luciano Martelotto is the Scientific Director of the Single Cell Core at Harvard University and has a robust interdisciplinary scientific background, specialising in molecular biology and biochemistry with a strong background in technology and engineering. Furthermore, his work in cancer fingerprinting and heterogeneity using single cell technologies has been paramount to the field.

He has been appointed to establish a Single Cell and Spatial-omics enabling platform for technologies capable of providing SAiGENCI’s basic and clinical researchers the means to achieve “discoveries that have a meaningful clinical impact,” namely those that can decipher the complex interplay that occurs at the most primitive ― and most informative ― level of cancer.

“I look forward to pioneering development of innovative genomics science backed by a bedrock of rigorous scientific research and analysis to establish a systematic program of solving real-world challenges and driving SAiGENCI’s placement as a world leader in cancer research,’’ he said.

“I strongly believe that the research I conduct needs to, not only expand knowledge, but be applied to create real impact and change. The common thread woven throughout my career path has been the focus on converging ideas from various sciences and taking this ideology to develop or refine approaches to address challenges in real life settings and ultimately contribute to improving lives through technological advancements.  

“The focus of my work at SAiGENCI, and that of my team, will constantly evolve due to the fast-paced advancement of the genomics field, but the focus will remain on developing technologies that have the potential to advance research and its practical application for the wider scientific community.”

Associate Professor Martelotto will arrive in Adelaide towards the end of 2021.

Premier Steven Marshall said, as the third most liveable city in the world and first in the country, Adelaide continues to attract the best and brightest from around the world.

“South Australia is continuing to attract the best and brightest to our great state and these three new appointments add to the great talent, expertise and knowledge that already exists within the state’s research and business community,” Premier Marshall said.

CALHN CEO Professor Lesley Dwyer said the calibre of the new appointments is testament to SAiGENCI’s strong networks with other medical research institutes in Australia and nationally. 
“This is an exciting milestone for cancer research in South Australia, where our own world class researchers can join forces with some of the very best leaders in health, research and innovation from around the world to advance healthcare outcomes for the community,” said Professor Dwyer.
“SAiGENCI’s collaborative concept is a game changer for cancer research and as a result, South Australian patients will have access to cutting edge therapies close to home. 
“We look forward to this collaboration which will lead to the discovery of new ways of thinking, breakthrough treatments and a pathway to finding a cure.”

University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj AC said: “This trio of incredible research talent attracted to South Australia should rightly give rise to applause. 

“Proven talent of this nature will move the dial and further strengthen the University of Adelaide’s position as a world-class, research-intensive university.”

Tagged in SAiGENCI, cancer, epigenetics, health & medical sciences, featured story