For the majority of patients with brain tumours, their disease is incurable. The average life expectancy of the most malignant type is less than one year, despite the best available treatments.
The brain tumour research group investigates the basic molecular and cellular events that cause brain cancer so they can identify targets for new and more effective treatments. The MBC-RMH Brain Tumour Research Group’s clinical and translational research programs include basic science, clinical trials, supportive care, and imaging projects. These are undertaken in collaboration with departments of the University of Melbourne, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre and The Royal Children’s Hospital and international groups including Harvard University, The University of Auckland, The Hadassah Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Across all programs and departments, the quality of life of brain tumour patients is a key priority. In March 2021, the Australian Government awarded $2.6 million to researchers at the MBC-RMH Brain Tumour Research Group with lead investigator Prof Kate Drummond to develop and demonstrate impact of an online brain cancer survivorship platform that provides streamlined access to treating teams, peer support, and evidence-informed supportive care, in a private and secure environment. Most importantly this platform will be co-produced with brain cancer survivors and carers. It is a joint project of four health services (The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH), Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (PMCC), St Vincent’s Hospital (STV) and University Hospital Geelong (UHG)) and will be conducted in collaboration with The University of Melbourne, Centre for Digital Transformation of Health (CDTH) and Two Bulls Digital Product Design Company
Professor Kate Drummond AM
Professor Kate Drummond AM is Director of Neurosurgery at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Head of Central Nervous System Tumours for the VCCC. Her chief research and clinical interests are in the biology and clinical management of brain tumours. She serves on a number of national cancer and brain tumour groups and boards.
Kate is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience and Editorial Board Member for the Journal of Neurosurgery. She is immediate past Chief Examiner in Neurosurgery for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. She has received the RACS Medal for Services to RACS. She has published over 140 peer-reviewed articles and received more than $15 million in research funding. She is Chair of Pangea Global Health Education, a for-impact organisation specialising in health education in low resource settings.
In 2019 she was awarded Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to medicine, particularly in neuro-oncology.
Associate Professor Andrew Morokoff
Associate Professor Andrew Morokoff is an academic neurosurgeon at Royal Melbourne Hospital and senior lecturer in the Department of Surgery University of Melbourne and is Head of the RMH Brain Tumour & Epilepsy Laboratory.
Andrew completed neurosurgery training in Melbourne and then fellowships at Harvard University Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Boston and in Paris. He has published 68 peer-reviewed articles and 8 book chapters including the first book on gliomas in Spanish.
His research has obtained > $7M in grant funding 2009 including NHMRC grants and funding from the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation. He has received the University of Melbourne Research Excellence Award (2019) and the Melbourne Health Watt-Geyer Neuro-oncology Award (2016).
Professor Mark Rosenthal
Professor Mark Rosenthal is a Senior Staff Specialist in the Department of Medical Oncology at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Director of the Parkville Cancer Clinical Trials Unit and Clinical Trials Lead for the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.
Professor Rosenthal trained as a Medical Oncologist in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia. He was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy for a thesis examining the molecular genetics of colon cancer conducted at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. (1992-1996). He completed post-graduate training at New York University Medical Centre, New York, USA (1996-98) was a Senior Staff Specialist in the Department of Medical Oncology, Royal Melbourne Hospital (1998-2016) and Professor Director of the Department from 2006-2016. He was Chairman and Chief Medical Officer of Cancer Trials Australia (2006-2016) and was inaugural Chairman of the Cooperative Trials Group for Neuro-Oncology (2007-2017).
His major interests include: neuro-oncology and early phase clinical trials.
Associate Professor Andrew S Davison
Associate Professor Andrew Davidson is a neurosurgeon at Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology at University of Melbourne. He moved from Sydney in 2021 to take up his position as the neurosurgical lead for the new Victorian Gamma Knife Centre at Peter Mac. His clinical interests include the multidisciplinary management of brain tumours, pituitary and skull base surgery (including minimally invasive and endoscopic surgery), cerebrovascular surgery, and stereotactic radiosurgery.
Andrew has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and 6 book chapters, that have involved collaborations with a broad range of disciplines including surgeons (from neurosurgery, rhinology, ophthalmology, and orthopaedic surgery), endocrinologists, pathologists, neurologists, laboratory scientists, clinical librarians, and medical educators. His academic and research interests include the functional assessment of brain tumour patients, and Evidence-Based Medicine.
Dr James Whittle
Dr James Whittle (UoM, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences and Medical Oncologist, PMCC) is an early career Neuro Oncologist and clinician scientist. He leads the Adolescent Young Adult (AYA) Neuro Oncology program at RMH/Peter Mac and collaborates closely with colleagues at the Royal Children’s Hospital, where he has an honorary appointment.
As a post-doctoral research fellow at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute his research has focussed on understanding the molecular mechanisms of drug resistance in breast cancer and overcoming treatment resistance with novel therapeutics. More recently, his laboratory research with colleagues at Dana Faber Cancer Institute (DFCI), focusses on understanding resistance to glioma. He has received multiple awards for his research and has a track record of successful peer-reviewed national funding.
Dr Whittle actively collaborates across networks nationally and internationally. Nationally, he is involved with the Cooperative Group for Neuro Oncology (COGNO), and is principal investigator for 3 clinical trials in progress.
Dr James Dimou
Dr James Dimou is an early career neurosurgeon-scientist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, with subspecialty expertise in the clinical management and translational research of brain tumours. After becoming a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 2017, he undertook a combined clinical and research fellowship in Surgical Neuro-Oncology at the Foothills Medical Centre, under the auspices of the University of Calgary, augmented by additional Neuro-oncology appointments in Zurich and Toronto, after receiving the Cooperative Trials Group for Neuro-Oncology (COGNO) Hubert Stuerzl Memorial Neuro-oncology Educational Award in 2016. He also won the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies (WFNS) Young Neurosurgeon research award for his PhD-related work on glioma stem cells (2011).
James acts as a regular reviewer for the World Neurosurgery journal, and is a newly appointed member on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience. His appointment at the University of Melbourne as a Clinical Lecturer in the Department of Surgery (RMH), his co-leadership of the Parkville Precinct Brain Tumour Research Group, and his active membership in the RMH Surgical Educators’ Group, underline his commitment to medical and neurosurgical education.
Dr Heidi McAlpine
Dr Heidi McAlpine is a SET 3 Neurosurgery Trainee who completed her BSc(hons), MBBS and DipSurgAnat at the University of Melbourne. She is currently undertaking a PhD looking at a synaptic connection between brain tumours and neurons, which has been supported by the Warren Haynes Fellowship from the Neuroscience Foundation, and the Melbourne University Research Training Program Scholarship. In 2019 she was awarded the Inaugural Professor Kaye Best Neurosurgery Registrar at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for her clinical work.
For the past 10 years Heidi has undertaken research through the Royal Melbourne Hospital to create an online resource for brain tumour patients, a project which has recently awarded $2.6 million MRFF grant to translate this into a resource for patients.
Heidi leads the Pangea Medical Student Program, which upskills local medical trainees in low-income countries in the fundamentals of patient care.
Dr Jordan Jones
Dr Jordan Jones is a SET 4 Neurosurgery Trainee who is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne investigating the role of circulating biomarkers (liquid biopsy) in brain tumour patients. This work has been supported by the Surgeon-Scientist Scholarship, awarded through the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, the Melbourne University Research Training Program Scholarship and the Brain Foundation Research Grant.
Jordan has published two book chapters and 11 peer-reviewed articles including two as a result of work performed through his PhD, as well as delivering two international presentations on circulating biomarkers in brain tumour patients.
Dr Verena Schadewaldt
Dr Verena Schadewaldt is an early career researcher and academic nurse. She is a research fellow at the Brain Tumour Research Group, a joint appointment of the University of Melbourne, Department of Surgery and The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Department of Neurosurgery.
Verena's passion for improving patient outcomes and advancing their care guided her career path. Currently, her research focuses on quality-of-life outcomes of brain cancer patients and finding solutions to their long-term supportive care needs, funded by a $2.6 million MRFF grant. Her past research projects include a 5-year NHMRC-funded trial to introduce evidence-based care interventions to improve stroke patient outcomes, investigating collaborative care models in primary care and advancing nurse-led care for cardiovascular patients.
Verena is a reviewer for various journals and assessor of grants for the Stroke Foundation.
Responding to need: technology-enhanced brain cancer survivorship – a $2.6 million Government funded brain cancer survivorship research project.
This 3-year project will result in a technology-enhanced brain cancer survivorship platform that improves survivorship experience and quality of life outcomes for patients with brain cancer and their carers. It provides a much needed one-stop-shop for participatory health and survivorship care for patients and their carers. It allows personalised timing, pace and levels of engagement with the treating team, proven resources and interventions responsive to the cognitive and physical limitations experienced by brain cancer survivors. Creating opportunity for communication and connection with peers and the health care team as well as access to supportive care resources and symptom management interventions, will better support patients to manage the consequences of their disease, and enhance carers’ ability to care for their loved one as well as their own health and wellbeing.
Video Credit: VCCC Alliance YouTube Channel
NHRMC Centre for Research Excellence, 2019-2024, $2,500,000
Centre for research excellence in neuroimaging. CIE with Roland Bammer, Patricia Desmond, Ashley Bush, Michael Breakspear, Shalini Amukotuwa, Anna Nowak, Jennifer Watts, Meng Law, Christopher Bladin.
Cancer Australia/Cancer Council NSW, 2016 – 2019, $448,074
Phase III Intergroup Study of Radiotherapy with Concomitant and Adjuvant Temozolomide versus Radiotherapy with Adjuvant PCV Chemotherapy in Patients with 1p/19q Co-deleted Anaplastic Glioma or Low Grade Glioma: the CODEL trial. CIE with Elizabeth Hovey, Anna Nowak, John Simes, Kerrie McDonald, Michael Buckland, Eng-Siew Koh and Lawrence Cher.
Characterising the human neurogliomal synapse – PhD project by Heidi McAlpine
Glioma are brain cancers that spread throughout normal brain tissue, causing symptoms like seizures, weakness and difficulty talking. The interaction between normal brain cells (neurons) and glioma cells are more complex than initially thought. Animal models suggest that glioma cells can communicate with normal brain cells electrically through synapses, as well as the better known chemical communication. This project uses highly specialised techniques to examine this synaptic communication using human tissue, collected during a patient’s brain tumour operation. Understanding this synaptic communication has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of these cancers, their growth and provide new therapeutic targets.
Liquid biopsy projects – PhD project by Jordan Jones
A major difficulty with brain tumour patients is the requirement for invasive neurosurgery for diagnosis and characterisation of a tumours genomic profile. Additionally, the method used to monitor brain tumours after treatment, MRI, is not always reliable at predicting how these tumours will behave. In this project we aim to investigate how circulating biomarkers, or “liquid biopsy”, can be used to improve the care of brain tumour patients. In over 100 patients with multiple blood samples, we have isolated tumour specific DNA and microRNA released into circulating from a tumour to investigate how these factors may be used to assist in diagnosis of brain tumours and monitoring the effects of treatment. So far work from this project has led to the only systematic study of circulating microRNA or DNA from multiple longitudinally collected follow up blood samples in glioma patients.
Largest ongoing quality of life study on brain tumours in the world
This study has more than 700 participants and demonstrates that brain tumour patients have reduced quality of life with particular impairments to their cognition, emotional and social functioning, fatigue and insomnia that are sustained many years after treatment and require better management and intervention. The technology-enhanced platform for brain cancer survivors and their carers will address many of the quality of life issues experienced by brain tumour patients.
The Glioma Study
Completion of the Australian Genomics and Clinic Outcomes or Glioma study recruitment with RMH the second highest recruiter in Australia. Results in 2019.
Language impairment following brain tumour surgery
A prospective study of language impairment and recovery following surgery for brain tumours - NHMRC funded.
Safer surgical techniques
Clinical advances include the commissioning of the intraoperative MRI scanner and development of fluorescent glioma surgery and navigated intracranial ultrasound - making surgery for our patients even safer.
Cancer Australia, 2016-2019, $535,789
Confidence to Care: A multi-state randomised controlled trial of structured nurse-led home-based support and education for carers of people with high grade glioma.
Women in Neurosurgery
An international collaboration to document and celebrate contributions by women to the field of neurosurgery. In 2020, Neurosurgery as a discipline celebrated its 100th birthday. Female neurosurgeons around the world collected data on pioneers in their field and the many shared themes that marked their careers such as resilience, hard work, ingenuity in the face of opposition, compassion and overcoming adversity to eventually triumph. Vital contributions of women neurosurgeons to the global advancement of clinical care, research, education and social justice are described for North America, Latin America, Australasia, Middle East, Europe and Africa.
International Collaboration on Meningiomas (ICOM)
An international collaborative effort to improve treatment and quality of life in these tumours.
University of Toronto and the International Consortium on Meningiomas
A collaboration to discover new genomic alterations in meningiomas that could help find new therapies.
Clinical Trials - Current
De novo glioblastoma trial - VERTU - PARP inhibitor in GBM (completed accrual and published)
Nutmeg trial – nivolumab immunotherapy agent in glioblastoma
CABARET trial – published – Avastin plus carboplatin in GBM
Recurrent GBM - AMG596 - first in human BITE EGFRvIII study (2nd patient in the world put on at RMH)
Clinical Trials - Upcoming
MAGMA (multi-arm glioblastoma trial Australia)
Development of a Phase 0 clinical trial protocol for novel agents for treatment of low grade glioma
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Included in our team are senior medical specialists, junior doctors, nurses, medical students and those with expertise in business development and adult learning.
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