$1.25 million Viertel support to cut cancer’s chatter

$1.25 million Viertel support to cut cancer’s chatter

Illuminate newsletter index page, March 2020
March 2020

Dr Tracy Putoczki
Dr Tracy Putoczki is identifying new targeted
treatments for cancer.

Dr Tracy Putoczki is the recipient of a $1.25 million Viertel Fellowship that will enable her to investigate how cells communicate in the development and spread of cancer.

Awarded by the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation, the five-year fellowship will advance Dr Putoczki’s research into how and when cells in and around the cancer ‘talk’ and coordinate with one another.

Eavesdropping on the enemy

Dr Putoczki said her laboratory was focused on disrupting the cellular conversations as a way to eliminate cancer.

“It’s exciting because we are just beginning to understand how cells in the tumour environment influence cancer growth and disease progression. Our ability to ‘listen in’ on the communication occurring within this microenvironment is important because it also influences whether a tumour will respond to cancer therapies, and whether the cancer will relapse,” she said.

For the past decade, Dr Putoczki has been exploring how cell signalling molecules called cytokines influence cancer. She led a 2013 study that showed a cytokine called interleukin-11 (IL-11) was important for stimulating the growth and spread of cancers.

“We showed that blocking IL-11 in models of stomach and bowel cancer could stop and reduce tumour growth. This makes IL-11 a promising potential target for treating many types of solid cancers," Dr Putoczki said.

A future with better treatments

Dr Putoczki has continued to research how IL-11 impacts cancers including two of the biggest cancer killers in Australia – pancreatic and bowel cancers.

“What we learn about how IL-11 and other cytokines communicate with cancers will enable us to develop better treatments for these diseases,” she said.

“I’m very grateful for the Viertel Foundation’s investment in helping us achieve our goal of developing new targeted treatments for cancer.”

Professor Peter Leedman, chair of the Viertel Foundation’s Medical Advisory Board, said the 2019 applications were of an extremely high standard.

“Each year we are impressed by the quality of the candidates and the incredible work they are doing in pursuit of new diagnostics, treatments and preventative strategies for some of our most intractable medical problems,” he said.

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