Bringing the best minds in cancer research under one roof.
The South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute (SAiGENCI) will be the state’s world-class cancer research institute, jointly resourced by the Federal Department of Health, CALHN and the University of Adelaide. This Institute was made possible by $80 million in Commonwealth funding secured with the support of South Australian Senator Stirling Griff.
SAiGENCI will allow for coordinated collaboration in the fight to control cancer and explore a cure, by attracting and retaining brilliant biomedical and clinical researchers. The Institute will also collaborate externally, with likeminded centres of excellence across the globe, delivering world-class and life-changing treatments and outcomes for cancer patients.
SAiGENCI’s objectives include:
- Forging strong research collaborations
- Developing and testing new technologies and discoveries
- Improving treatment and care options for people living with cancer
- Training South Australian clinicians
- Commercialising new discoveries
The plans for the South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute are ambitious. The aim is to provide a focal point for cancer research in the South Australian Biomedical Precinct and through this, enable South Australian participation in the growing Australian network of cancer institutes, and national and international clinical trials partnerships.
We aim to create an environment that will attract talent to South Australia, but also see this as becoming the South Australian node of the national cancer research effort.
Collaboration and institutional partnership will be fundamental to our success and will underpin the impact we aim to have on the generation of new knowledge, and its application to the benefit of patients.
Specifically, this will involve:
- Creating an intellectual environment in SAiGENCI that is a magnet for the attraction and retention of clinical academic and cancer research talent, establishing an aggressive national and international recruitment program that builds research, translation and clinical capability in cancer immunotherapy and cell therapy in South Australia.
- Establishing platforms and technologies to expand genomic and related (e.g. epigenomic, transcriptomic, metabolomic) profiling of tumours which will facilitate research, clinical trials, and ultimately, enable precision oncology.
- Integrating South Australian cancer research, clinical trials, care and education with national networks and programs.
- Partnering with the Central Adelaide Local Health Network to facilitate the implementation of national cancer care pathways and policies and enhancing clinical trials for South Australian patients.
- Contributing to the development of contemporary and cutting-edge training programs for clinician scientists, research scientists and the health and medical research workforce.
- Collaborating with partners in the Adelaide Biomedical Precinct to create a world-class clinical trials infrastructure that will attract national and international industry-sponsored and investigator-led clinical trials.
- Working with the wider University and Central Adelaide Local Health Network to build relationships within the philanthropic sector that will help to diversify and strengthen the institute’s revenues into the long-term future.
Professor Christopher Sweeney | Director
Professor Christopher Sweeney has been appointed as SAiGENCI's inaugural Director.
Professor Sweeney is a Medical Oncologist, formerly with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Professor Sweeney received his medical degree from the University of Adelaide in 1992 and completed an internship at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. He did his 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 the management of genitourinary malignancies, with a focus on prostate and testicular cancer.
Professor Brendan Jenkins leads SAiGENCI's Tumour Inflammation and Immunotherapy program, which aims to identify ways to make tumours more visible to the body's immune system and improve immune therapies.
Professor Jenkins specialises in the role of innate immunity in precancerous chronic inflammatory conditions such as gastritis and pancreatitis, and inflammation-associated cancers, in particular gastric (stomach), pancreatic and lung cancers.
As part of his role, Professor Jenkins will help build immunology expertise at the University of Adelaide.
Professor Jenkins joins SAiGENCI from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, where he was Centre Head for the Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases.
The knowledge gained by his research has already had a significant impact on biomarker and drug development and in multiple scientific and medical fields, including cancer biology, oncology, immunology, gastroenterology and respiratory medicine.
Professor Melissa Davis | Program Leader, Computational Systems Oncology
Professor Melissa Davis is a computational cancer biologist and the joint Head of the Bioinformatics Division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. She is an internationally recognised expert in computational cancer systems biology, bioinformatics and the computational modelling of cancer plasticity. Professor Davis is a highly skilled bioinformatician, developing methods downloaded >40,000 times and she has a track record in knowledge engineering, including ontology engineering and knowledge-based analytical methods.
Professor Davis has previously collaborated with the CRC for Cancer Therapeutics, and the CRC successor, Canthera Discovery, supporting projects with a headline value of >$1.3bn, and her research has contributed to three clinical trials. Professor Davis is currently the Vice President of the Australian Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Society (ABACBS), a role she was elected to in 2020, after previously being a member of the founding National Executive (2014-2017). She has been CI on successful grants attracting $5.1m in funding, including $1.2m in fellowship funding. She holds honorary affiliations in the University of Melbourne Department of Clinical Pathology and the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute.
SAiGENCI are proud to welcome Professor Melissa Davis to the position of Program Leader, Computational Systems Oncology. The Computational Systems Oncology program will bring high density data from the clinic and laboratory to produce new insights in respect of where and why cancer appears and progresses. This is an important emerging field in which SAiGENCI and the broader University of Adelaide are well placed to develop an internationally recognised centre of excellence, particularly given the University’s existing strengths in AI and machine learning. Professor Davis commenced with SAiGENCI in March 2022 on a part-time basis until joining the Institute full-time in April 2023.
Professor Jose Polo | Director of the Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics
Professor Jose Polo has been appointed 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 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. Professor Polo’s work has been published in prestigious journals including Nature Medicine, Nature Immunology, Cancer Cell, and Nature Neuroscience.
Professor Lisa Butler | Lead Associate
SAiGENCI are proud to announce the appointment of our first Lead Associate; Professor Lisa Butler.
Professor Lisa Butler is a Cancer Council SA Beat Cancer Principal Cancer Research Fellow in the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing (FCMHW) at the University of Adelaide. She is also Director of the Solid Tumour Program and heads the Prostate Cancer Research Group at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI). She holds key executive positions in the FCMHW, the Australian Prostate Cancer BioResource, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and the Australian and New Zealand Urogenital and Prostate Cancer Trials Group.
Professor Butler has established an internationally-recognised research program focused on prostate cancer, the most common male cancer; in which she is discovering new therapeutic targets alongside innovative, non-invasive biomarkers to monitor them.
Professor Butler undertook postdoctoral studies at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York from 1998-2001. Her work there directly contributed to the clinical development of histone deacetylase inhibitors as anticancer agents and sparked her interests in translational cancer research. Since returning to Australia, a major focus of her research program has been the development of preclinical models involving primary clinical samples, which more closely represent the individual drug responses in men with prostate cancer. She has established productive translational research programs that leverage these unique preclinical models, prostate biobanking, proof-of-concept clinical trials, clinical biomarker development and international collaborations. From 2015, she has led a Movember Revolutionary Team to investigate the role of lipids in prostate cancer and their potential as new biomarkers of disease aggressiveness, and in 2019 she and her collaborators were awarded funding from the US Department of Defense to further study and therapeutically target lipid metabolising enzymes in prostate cancer. Her other major research interests include development of novel combinatorial strategies to target the androgen receptor and lipid metabolism pathways in prostate cancer.
The SAiGENCI strategic plan endorsed by the SAiGENCI Advisory Board in September 2021 contemplates the creation of Associate Group Leader positions (from within the University of Adelaide) and Affiliate Group Leader positions (from within other South Australian institutions) as a mechanism for building collaborative relationships in cancer around the state. SAiGENCI is delighted to welcome Professor Butler to the first such position as Lead SAiGENCI Associate in SAHMRI, and Prostate Cancer Theme Lead in the Hormone Dependent Cancers Program. She will also lead SAiGENCI’s Graduate Program for HDR and Honours students.
Associate Professor Luciano Martelotto | Single Cell and Spatial Technologies Lab
Associate Professor Luciano Martelotto is establishing the Single Cell and Spatial Technologies Lab within SAiGENCI and the new Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics.
Previously, Associate Professor Martelotto was 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.
Dr Adrienne Sullivan | Group Leader, Development and Epigenetics Laboratory
Dr Adrienne Sullivan completed her PhD in Biochemistry and Cellular Biology in the lab of Professor Murray Whitelaw at the University of Adelaide, studying the molecular function of bHLH PAS transcription factors in cancer biology and monogenic obesity.
Adrienne then joined the lab of Dr Silvia Santos (Quantitative Stem Cell Biology Group) as a Postdoctoral Training Fellow at the London Institute of Medical Sciences, UK, in 2016. In 2017 she relocated with Dr Santos to the Francis Crick Institute, UK, where she has been supported by a Rutherford-Crick Postdoctoral Fellowship. During her postdoctoral work she utilised various quantitative techniques such as single cell multiomics, live cell imaging and tracking, and molecular biosensors to investigate how transcription factor activity at the early stages of embryonic stem cell differentiation enforces a committed exit from pluripotency and mediates the transition to various cell types found in the embryo. Her work has been published in high-profile journals such as Cell Stem Cell.
Dr Sullivan holds a Group Leader joint appointment with the Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics (ACE) and SAiGENCI as Head of Development and Epigenetics Laboratory with ACE and SAiGENCI’s Cancer Epigenetics program, where she is excited to continue her work in understanding how transcription factor activity and epigenetic remodelling of enhancer regions controls cellular identity, behaviour, and potentiality in early development and disease.
Dr Luke Isbel | Group Leader, Cancer Epigenetics
Dr Luke Isbel holds a joint Group Leader appointment within the South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute (SAiGENCI) and the Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics (ACE), where he will focus on the role of chromatin in development and in disease states like cancer.
Having specialised in the study of molecular genetics and chromatin biology, Luke finished his PhD in 2016 at La Trobe University under the supervision of Professor Emma Whitelaw, studying mouse models of epigenetic function. He then joined the laboratory of Professor Dirk Schübeler to carry out hist post-doctoral work at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Switzerland, where he was awarded two prestigious Fellowships - the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship and CJ Martin Early Career Fellowship. Throughout this time, he focused on the biology of transcription factors – the proteins that ‘read out’ the genome – and was able to make significant contributions to the field, publishing in high-impact journals such as Science, Nature and Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, as well as Nature Reviews Genetics. Notably, this work includes a novel mechanism of how transcription factors can read out specific chromatin marks as well as the first structures of multiple transcription factors bound to nucleosomes.
Luke’s expertise encompasses a wide range of in vitro, cell culture and animal model systems, as well as an extensive tool-set of molecular techniques such as genomic and proteomic profiling. He aims to establish an inclusive and creative laboratory environment in order to understanding how chromatin serves as a guiding force to direct transcription factors in the genome, and how such interactions might be exploited for cancer therapeutic strategies.
Dr Qi Zhang | EMBL Australia Group Leader, Cancer Epigenetics
Dr Qi Zhang will bring her cutting-edge cancer research to the South Australian immunoGENomics Cancer Institute (SAiGENCI) as the first EMBL Australia Group Leader to be hosted at the Institute. Dr Zhang will lead a group within the Cancer Epigenetics program led by Professor Jose Polo, with a joint appointment in the Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics (ACE).
Dr Zhang – who has flourished as a postdoctoral researcher at Monash University in the lab of EMBL Australia Group Leader Associate Professor Chen Davidovich since 2016 – is excited to establish her lab at SAiGENCI as an EMBL Australia Group Leader and continue working towards improving cancer treatments.
Dr Qi Zhang has a longstanding interest in the structure and function of epigenetic modifiers.
Her current research focus is to understand fundamental mechanisms governing the regulation of epigenetic modifiers in gene silencing.
Prior to joining the Davidovich Lab, Dr Zhang was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, studying the structure and function of ubiquitination complexes involved in stress response and gene regulation.
She completed her PhD in 2013 at China Agricultural University, investigating the molecular mechanism of the regulation of a histone demethylase.
Dr Zhang held an ARC DECRA Fellowship (2018-2020) and is a recipient of the NHMRC EL1 Investigator Grant (2021-2025).
SAiGENCI officially joined the EMBL Australia Partner Laboratory Network in early 2023 and Dr Zhang will be the Institute’s first EMBL Australia Fellow, commencing in December 2023.
Dr Fuyi Li | Group Leader, Artificial Intelligence for Biological Innovation (ABI Lab)
Dr Fuyi Li is establishing a research group focusing on developing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning approaches for cancer research as a Group Leader in the Computational Systems Oncology program.
Dr Li finished his PhD in 2020 at Monash University under the supervision of Associate Professor Jiangning Song and Professor Trevor Lithgow. He then joined the laboratory of Professor Lachlan Coin to carry out his post-doctoral work at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, The University of Melbourne. With a strong background in machine learning and a profound understanding of bioinformatics, Fuyi has garnered recognition for his pioneering work in developing advanced data-driven bioinformatics algorithms and tools. His primary focus lies in tackling intricate biological challenges by harnessing the power of these innovative computational approaches. Fuyi's research interests are at the forefront of the rapidly evolving field of bioinformatics. His work centres on the development and application of cutting-edge machine-learning techniques to interpret vast and diverse biological datasets. These datasets encompass a wide spectrum of biological information, ranging from a wide range of biomolecules data, omics data and histopathology image data. He has developed over 30 bioinformatics software/webservers, and these tools have attracted more than 250,000 visits and use from more than 80 countries worldwide. At SAiGENCI, Fuyi will lead transformative AI-driven research endeavours in cancer bioinformatics, harnessing state-of-the-art methodologies to unveil hidden complexities within biological systems.