27 Oct 2017

MRFF grant to boost tumour drug delivery system research

Dr Karen Alt
by Anne Crawford

Dr Karen Alt was last week awarded one of the Federal Government’s inaugural Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grants to progress cutting-edge research into a new method of delivering drugs to cancer tumours.

Dr Alt, Senior Research Fellow at the Central Clinical School’s Australian Centre for Blood Diseases (ACBD), was awarded $431,000 under the 2017 Next Generation Clinical Researchers Program which supports Australia’s new and up-and-coming research talent. She is one of 13 recipients who have been collectively allocated $5.64 million.

“It’s really exciting to be part of the first round of these grants,” Dr Alt said. “It means security for the next four years and I can focus on my research.”

Dr Alt is working with colleagues in Associate Professor Christoph Hagemeyer's Nanobiotechnology Laboratory to develop a new technology platform for cancer, merging novel imaging and therapy probes into onco-theranostic nanoparticles, a combination of diagnostics and therapy in a single drug.

"Targeted drug delivery and imaging of solid tumours with nanoparticles (onco-theranostics) holds a lot of promise for more efficient cancer treatment with less adverse effects than treatments that are currently available," she said.

Dr Alt said that the incorporation of a targeting biomolecule such as an antibody allows for direct delivery of a large drug payload with high precision and discrimination between healthy and diseased tissue. An imaging functionality can be used to detect diseases at early, potentially curable stages, identify patients likely to respond to certain treatments, and predict response to therapy.

The onco-theranostic would allow for accurate monitoring of tumour-targeted drug delivery and assessment of therapeutic efficacy, she said. "In addition, this system holds great potential for non-invasive tailored personalised therapeutic interventions.

“The beauty of the system is that if it works on one cancer type the system would be easy to adapt to other cancers,” Dr Alt said.

Dr Alt and her fellow researchers, along with collaborators at Melbourne University, have combined expertise in biotechnology, nanotechnology, positron emission tomography and animal models. They form a successful team that has consistently published in leading journals in the diagnostics, drug delivery and molecular imaging fields.

The first $65 million in grants from the MRFF were announced in the Australian Government’s budget this year by the Federal Minister for Health, Mr Greg Hunt. The MRFF funding is in addition to the Australian Government’s funding to the NHMRC.

The Next Generation Clinical Researchers Program is designed to increase talent among the health and medical research workforce through Fellowships that: increase engagement of research-focused clinicians in problem-solving and the translation of research into clinical practice and commercial potential; promote clinician researcher career establishment and diversified career pathways; improve health and medical research sector retention and capacity; and reinforce Australia’s position as a health and medical research innovator.

Dr Alt has been awarded an Industry Career Development Fellowship under the program, which is jointly funded by NHMRC via the MRFF and Clarity Pharmaceuticals. It will commence next year.

Information on the Medical Research Future Fund can be found at

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