The Picchi Award for Excellence - 2014
2 prizes for best PhD Students

Recipients: Julia Marchingo - Phd. Student & Dr Chun Yew Fong - Clinician Researcher
Value: $20,000

Julia Marchingo, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, together with Dr Chun Yew Fong, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, have been recognised for their originality, innovation and contribution to cancer research.
The awards are sponsored by the Picchi Brothers Foundation, and are intended to recognise, develop and support the top PhD students from within the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre partners. The recipient’s research must address a pivotal area of cancer control with awardees being chosen based on their productivity and the potential impact of their research.

“It is the hope of the Foundation that the award will inspire and encourage the next generation of leaders in cancer research,” said Mr Joseph Lukaitis, Chair of the Picchi Brothers Foundation.

Julia Marchingo, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, amathematical modelling to understand how complex external signals affect the magnitude of the immune response. Ms Marchingo was the first author on the publication, which was published in the top tier journal Science.

“Our research showed that the more times T cells divide, the more powerfully they can fight their target,” said Ms Marchingo.

The recent success of treatments that harness the immune system to kill cancer cells provides great potential for Ms Marchingo’s research discoveries to help develop new, and improve existing, cancer treatments.

Dr Chun Yew Fong’s research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre has focussed on modelling mechanisms of resistance and determinants of response to new anti-cancer drugs that target the altered epigenetic environment in cancers such as leukaemia. This new class of drugs, called BET inhibitors, have shown promise in early phase clinical trials.

His studies have identified ways to pre-empt resistance and improve the clinical use of these unique targeted therapies. Given the urgent need for improved therapies for patients with acute leukaemias, Dr Fong’s work is of great clinical importance. Ms Marchingo and Dr Fong will each receive a $10,000 scholarship to enable them to present their research findings at important international scientific meetings in 2015. The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is a powerful partnership of nine leading Victorian organisations including The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, The Royal Melbourne, The University of Melbourne, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, The Royal Women’s Hospital, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Western Health and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, and Austin Health working together to control and cure cancer. It is growing the next generation of top cancer researchers to more dramatically improve cancer outcomes.