Pioneering cancer researchers win Premier's 'Big Data, Big Impact' grant

6 Aug 2013

A team of Sydney-based scientists has been recognised with a prestigious prize for their pioneering cancer research.

The team from the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, led by Dr Jason Wong, and Intersect Ltd, is going where no cancer researchers have ever gone before: exploring the non-coding portion of the human genome, known as the 'dark matter', to understand its role in causing cancer.

The ground-breaking researchers will delve into over 1000 publicly-available, genome-wide datasets that have demonstrated as much as 80% of genome 'dark matter' may in fact have some function

The team will explore the hypothesis that mutations in the dark matter of the human genome are a frequent event that can lead to cancer, then validate and examine the extent such mutations are present across a large number of independent clinical samples.

Dr Wong and his team were awarded the inaugural 'Big Data, Big Impact' grant at the NSW Premier's Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research 2013 earlier this month.

Co-funded by the Cancer Institute NSW, the NSW Office of the Chief Scientist & Engineer, and the Office of Health and Medical Research, the grant will support the team to work on its project entitled 'Exploring the Dark Matter of Cancer Genomes'.

Chief Cancer Officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW, Professor David Currow, said the new 'Big Data, Big Impact' award recognises the dawning of a new age of cancer research.

"Cancer research has entered into a new era, and NSW is at the forefront. Gone are the days when researchers toiled in isolated labs with limited samples. Now there is so much data that are publicly-available, the challenge is unlocking it," Professor Currow said.

"I look forward to following the progress of this team as they explore dark matter to find answers to questions that have never been asked before, which will ultimately lead to advances in cancer treatment and care."

NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, Professor Mary O'Kane, praised the revolutionary work being undertaken by Dr Wong's team.

"This team of researchers are real innovators," Professor O'Kane said.

"The non-coding part of the genome has not previously been thoroughly investigated by scientists.

"Dr Wong and his team hope to find changes that occur in the 'dark matter' that may play a role in driving cancer using existing, publicly-available data.

"They believe identifying these mutations could immediately provide new ways to study cancer, which could result in new diagnostic tools and therapies," she said.

A photo of Professor O'Kane and the team from the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and Intersect

Pictured: Professor O'Kane and the team from the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and Intersect. (Photo: Intersect Ltd)

For more information about the NSW Premier's Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research 2013, including a full list of winners, click here.

For more information about the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at UNSW, click here.