PhD Scholarship in Ovarian Cancer and the immune system

This project aims to pinpoint new blood immune based biomarkers as ovarian cancer diagnostics and prognostics with utility in the clinic alone or combined with existing tests.

These will help women be diagnosed earlier and get onto the correct treatment earlier as well, resulting in increased survival.

The value of the Scholarship is equivalent to an RMIT full Scholarship

This Scholarship will be available for 3.5 years.

Applications are now open.

Position will remain open until filled.

Applicants need to have a background in immunology, genetics or bioinformatics. They must have completed a relevant Bachelor’s Degree and Honour’s or Master’s. 

Desirable criteria:

  • Practical experience and conceptual background in cellular immunology.
  • Interest in, and ability to, work in an interdisciplinary setting including immunologists, clinicians and, bioinformaticians and biologists.
  • Experience in tissue culture.

To apply, please submit the following documents to Prof. Magdalena Plebanski (magdalena.plebanski@rmit.edu.au) and Dr April Kartikasari (april.kartikasari@rmit.edu.au).

  • A copy of electronic academic transcripts
  • A CV that includes any publications/awards and the contact details of two referees.

Co-supervised by Dr April Kartikasari, Dr Andrew Stephens (Hudson Research Institute) and Professor Clare Scott (WEHI).

Epithelial ovarian cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer related death in women. One woman in 70 will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime and the majority of these women will die from the disease. The overall 5-year survival rate is 40%, and a dismal 20% for women who present with the ovarian cancer subtype of high grade serous carcinoma (HGSC). One reason the prognosis for women with advanced ovarian cancer is poor is its late detection, hampered by the lack of better scientifically validated effective screening tools. The other reason is that the best treatments currently available offer only temporary relief, with 50% of women relapsing, many with a lethal carcinoma that has become resistant to the first-line drug treatments.

Risk factors include smoking, as well as BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Recently, beyond such environmental or genetic tumor-specific risk factors, poor prognosis in ovarian cancer has been linked to a dysfunctional immune system. This includes presence of cells that turn off the immune system (e.g. regulatory T cells or Tregs) and immune-cell mediated inflammation. Using the immune system clear the tumours provides potentially more effective approaches than current treatments. Moreover, it may be possible to use readily accessible biomarkers in blood to help earlier detection of the cancer, and hence increase the chances treatment will be successful. 

Aims and Hypotheses: We will pinpoint new blood immune based biomarkers as ovarian cancer diagnostics and prognostics with utility in the clinic alone, or combined with existing tests. These will help women be diagnosed earlier and get onto the correct treatment earlier as well, resulting in increased survival. 

Methods: The laboratory uses world-class big-data omics analysis of blood immune cells, including RNAseq, epigenetics, multicolour flowcytometry (up to 27 simultaneous markers on cells), cell sorting, multiplex cytokine analysis (Luminex), and classical immune techniques, e.g. ELISA, ELISPOT, immunohistology, proliferation and functional T cell assays. We use a unique ovarian cancer animal model and blood samples from multiple human clinical trials.   

The PhD candidate: The preferred PhD candidate will have done an Honours or Masters in either immunology, oncology, bioinformatics, biostatistics or a related discipline.   

References:  1-        Wilson AL et al.  Cancers 11 (2018) pii: E32 2-        Kampan NC et al. Front Immunol. 8 (2017): 1482 3-        Daillère R et al. Immunity 45 (2016): 931

For further inquiries please contact Distinguished Professor Magdalena Plebanski (magdalena.plebanski@rmit.edu.au) and Dr April Kartikasari (april.kartikasari@rmit.edu.au).

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.