Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute Internship



During Term 3 last year students had the opportunity to take part in the annual Australian High School Cancer Competition. This included studying a syllabus based around cancer, then completing a multiple-choice exam. Year 11 Students Gihansa Kottasha Vidhanelage and Sebin Lee placed in the top four nationally in the competition, and were awarded the priceless opportunity to go to Melbourne for a weeklong internship at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute. Gihansa and Sebin share their experience below.

ONJRI Sebin Gihansa.jpg"We were assigned to the Tumour Targeting Team, who are currently working on the Fn14 Project. The Fn14 project is based on a study published in 2015 that explores how Fn14, which is a protein, affects cachexia. Cachexia is a syndrome characterised by unintentional weight loss, progressive muscle wasting and loss of appetite, often found in terminal stage cancer. There is no cure and no effective treatment for this syndrome and as a result it accounts for nearly 20% of cancer-related deaths. Making the work of the tumour targeting team vital for increasing quality of life for future cancer patients.

Research has found that the anti-Fn14 antibody, 002, can reduce and reverse the effects of cachexia, specifically in human prostate cancer tumour-bearing mouse models, that have been analysed for protein changes that occur in responses to different therapies. This is a breakthrough in improving the quality of life of terminal stage cancer patients. While we were there, researchers were trying to develop a combination therapy against Glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is a very aggressive brain cancer, which can only be treated with the drug, temozolomide. High levels of a protein called connexin-43 Sebin Lee-ONJRI.jpgdesensitizes temozolomide leave patients diagnosed with Glioblastoma without any effective treatment options. The anti-Fn14 antibody 002 which reduces and reverses cachexia can also reduce and control connexin-43 levels, making the Fn14 project one of the most feasible possibilities for treating glioblastoma in the future.

During the week we took part in cancer cell culturing of syngeneic colon tumour cells which was aimed at teaching us correct laboratory skills and sterile procedures. These skills are essential to the validity of research in medical, pharmaceutical and chemistry-related fields.  After our cells were cultured, we were taught how to correctly count the number of cells using a Neubauer counting chamber, which is vital to gaining standardised quantitative data. We also did Western Blotting, which is a process used to recognise proteins using antibody recognition sites. Through this process we were able to see how theoretical knowledge and procedures we had read could be applied to a practical setting. We ended the week by going to the live animal facility and we got to explore animal imaging, captivity and radiation techniques as well as being shown a one of a kind, 4 million dollar microscope.

ONJRI-group.jpgIt was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity, and we both agree that it was a very valuable and eye opening experience. Seeing the passionate team at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute work tirelessly to find possible treatments for such a widespread disease as Cancer, was truly inspirational. We would like to thank all the staff and teachers who have helped us, especially Mrs Mitchell who organised the competition, taught the syllabus and helped us with everything that came afterwards and Mr Lal for also teaching the syllabus. And to the New Grade 10s who have just arrived at  Queensland Academies, we would just like to say if you ever get the opportunity to compete in the High School Cancer Competition or anything similar, take those opportunities because you never know where they can lead you." - Gihansa Kottasha Vidhanelage and Sebin Lee - Year 11

Mrs Melissa Mitchell
Science Faculty  

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Last reviewed 12 February 2020
Last updated 12 February 2020