About SAIGENCI

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

SAiGENCI’s plans

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Integrating South Australian cancer research, clinical trials, care and education with national networks and programs.
  4. 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.
  5. Contributing to the development of contemporary and cutting-edge training programs for clinician scientists, research scientists and the health and medical research workforce.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

View SAiGENCI's organisation chart here.

Our team

Professor Chris Sweeney

Professor Christopher Sweeney | Director Designate

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

Professor Christopher Sweeney is a Medical Oncologist at 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 Melissa Davis

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 January 2023.

Professor Jose Polo

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.

Associate Professor Luciano Martelotto

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.

Professor Lisa Butler

Professor Lisa Butler | Lead Associate

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.