Cancer and cell signalling

Understanding brain cancer and developing targeted therapies to eradicate it.

Brain cancer is the most common cause of death in children and the most common cause of cancer-related death in people under 40. It is very rarely curable.

Treatment is invasive and destructive. The standard treatment is surgery to remove the lump, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which floods the brain with toxins.

Children who survive are left with serious side effects because their brains and bodies are still developing.

The Wainwright Group has made it their mission to solve this problem. They believe they can find a way to develop tailored and targeted treatments to increase survival and quality of life of young patients.

Research overview

The Wainwright Group studies the genetic pathways that drive common human cancer and seek to find new drugs to treat those cancers. They have had great success.

Group Leader Professor Brandon Wainwright is renowned for discovering the first gene known to cause brain cancer, and the gene pathway responsible for common cancer – the Hedgehog Pathway.

“This pathway is essentially the genetic software that is used to develop us from an embryo to an adult. It instructs the stem cells how to develop into the various organs and tissues that make up the human body and when complete, it shuts down,” said Professor Wainwright.

“The pathway is then temporarily woken up, and re-deployed in a different way to repair damaged tissue. This software ensures that every cell in the body knows it’s job, where it is, and what it is supposed to do. But cancer is a cell that no longer knows its job. So it starts growing again like it is part of an early embryo.”

The group’s pioneering work to understand the genetic pathways and changes that lead to brain cancer has seen them develop a genetic map which they can use to predict whether tumours may respond to already-approved drugs.

Together with an international team, the group has found a drug previously approved to treat breast cancer can also be used to shrink medulloblastoma, a common form of childhood brain tumour.

This discovery has led to a clinical trial using the drug palbociclib to treat children with medulloblastoma. If the clinical trial is successful, it will represent a major step forward to taking the group’s research from the genome to the clinic.

Research projects

Coming soon.

Research training opportunities

Research title: Tissue repair and cancer

Summary of research interests: Our research group focuses on understanding the mechanism of common human cancer. In particular we study the paediatric brain tumour, medulloblastoma, and the most common form of cancer, basal cell carcinoma of the skin (BCC). Both of these tumour types are caused by aberrant regulation of the Hedgehog (Hh) signalling pathway. The Hh pathway is also important in normal embryonic development and stem cell regulation. Therefore, our work examines both the cancerous state and normal tissue regulation. We work at the interface between developmental biology and human/mouse genetics and genomics to gain new insights into how cancers occur, and how we might block their growth.

Traineeships, honours and PhD projects include

  • Control of tumour – study of the paediatric brain tumour, medulloblastoma, and the most common form of cancer, basal cell carcinoma of the skin (BCC)
  • Stem cell growth – examining interface between developmental biology andhuman/mouse genetics and genomics to gain new insights into how cancers occur, and how we might block their growth.

Contact: Professor Brandon Wainwright

+61 7 3346 2110

Find out more about Research Training at IMB:

Research Training

Featured publications

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Engagement and impact

Professor Wainwright identified the first gene responsible for brain cancer. He also discovered the pathway that causes most common cancer – the Hedgehog Pathway. This pathway causes 95% of Basal Cell Carcinoma’s of the skin, and is involved in most cancers of all types. Identifying and understanding the Hedgehog Pathway is also critical to tissue repair. This is the pathway that regulates and controls embryonic development and how our tissues repair when they are damaged.

The Wainwright Group has had particular success in developing treatments for Medulloblastoma, a brain cancer that is the most common cause of death in children, and rarely curable. The Wainwright Group is currently in discussions to put a drug into the clinic as a treatment for Medulloblastoma. They are also setting up a system to improve sample collection to further research in the field.

Due to their intimate knowledge of the cerebellum from their work in brain tumours, the Wainwright Group is also having an impact on neurodegenerative diseases, by improving our understanding of the genetics driving them.

The Wainwright Group is also concentrating on uncovering the genetic difference between a tumour when it first appears and when it re-appears.

Partners and collaborators

Coming soon.



Prof Brandon Wainwright

Professor Brandon Wainwright

Group Leader, Genomics of Development and Disease Division
Investigator, UQ Genome Innovation Hub

  +61 7 3346 2110
  IMB Researcher Profile
  UQ Genome Innovation Hub

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Support Professor Wainwright's research

  Group Leader



  • Dr Pengxiang Ji

    Higher degree by research (PhD) student
    Institute for Molecular Bioscience
  • Mr James Fraser

    Higher degree by research (PhD) student
    Institute for Molecular Bioscience