UQ researchers celebrated for excellence in their fields

13 Sep 2011

A project exploring how to manipulate the development of the lymphatic vascular system to block the spread of cancer cells throughout the body has won a 2011 UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award.

Dr Mathias Francois, a researcher at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience who is establishing his own laboratory within the IMB, will use the $90,000 award to develop molecular and pharmacological tools to understand how lymphatic vessels form and spread.

“The lymphatic vessels play an important role in preventing infection and trafficking immune cells,” Dr Francois, pictured right, said. “But they are also co-opted by cancer as a transport system for carrying tumour cells around the body.

“Cancer usually only becomes deadly once it spreads from its primary location, so if we can understand more about the lymphatic vascular system, we should be able to learn how to stop the spread of cancer by preventing the growth of new lymphatic vessels.”

The project is based on Dr Francois’s recent discovery that lymphatic vessel formation is triggered by the gene Sox18. This project will seek to find molecules that inhibit the activity of Sox18 under disease conditions.

Such molecules will be used as tools to learn more about how these vessels form, as an improved knowledge of lymphatic vascular development will accelerate the development of new therapies to treat afflictions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“There is a significant gap in our basic understanding of the molecular and genetic mechanisms controlling the growth and function of lymphatic vessels,” Dr Francois said.

“The inhibitors discovered in this project could lead to the development of new treatments designed to manage the spread of cancer via the lymphatic vasculature.”

The UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards were presented on Tuesday September 13 and recognise outstanding performance and leadership potential in early career researchers.

Dr Mathias Francois