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Viertel Foundation Fellowship for leading cancer researcher

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher Dr Ross Dickins has been awarded a Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation Fellowship worth $AUD975,000 over five years.

Dr Dickins, a laboratory head in the institute's Molecular Medicine division, is investigating the genes involved in cancer development, particularly leukaemia, using short hairpin RNA (shRNA) techniques he developed that help identify the function of genes by switching the genes on and off.

"The techniques harness a natural process of gene silencing known as RNA interference and allow us to quickly and effectively study multiple cancer genes in new ways," Dr Dickins said.

The Viertel Fellowship will allow Dr Dickins to continue his work towards identifying the normal function of genes recently implicated in leukaemia.

Dr Dickins said it was an honour to be named the 2010 Viertel Fellow.

"Charles Viertel was a hugely generous Australian philanthropist, yet during his lifetime he sought little public recognition," Dr Dickins said.

"It is a great privilege to receive a fellowship from the charitable foundation he established." Dr Dickins explained that the research supported by the fellowship aimed to better understand the genetic changes that bring about leukaemia. With that knowledge new therapeutic targets for cancer could be identified, he said.

"We are examining several genes that are known to be altered in human leukaemia, along with a new set of genes that are thought to be involved but whose functions in normal blood cells and leukaemia cells remain untested," Dr Dickins said.

"Ultimately, we hope that shRNA technology will accelerate cancer drug discovery by identifying genes that could be targeted by new therapeutic agents, in particular for leukaemias and lymphomas," he said.

"In an ideal future, the research will help match the genetic profile of a tumour with the best possible therapeutic agent to treat that particular tumour."

The Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation is one of the largest charitable foundations in Australia, awarding almost $9 million through its grant programs each year.


Contact: Penny Fannin
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

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