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Is RNA the answer to cancer?

17 August 2022
6.30pm – 7.30pm AEST
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Is RNA the answer to cancer

Until recently most people had never heard of RNA.  

If DNA is the hardware of life, then RNA is the software that allows it to operate. mRNA is well-known as the key ingredient in COVID-19 vaccines. But RNA technology could also play an important role in how we treat other conditions such as cancer, cystic fibrosis and schizophrenia.   

UNSW’s RNA Institute will conduct pre-clinical trials for the treatment of COVID-19 and cancer using RNA-based therapeutics manufactured in NSW. A pilot-scale production of siRNA for use in RNA-based therapeutics is expected to be conducted in the next few months. siRNA are small sequences of genetic code that can interfere with genes that are driving cancer growth and survival. These siRNA can be delivered into the body and target cancerous cells.   

Join our panel of experts online as they discuss the advancement of RNA technologies, including how it might combine with other drugs in the fight against hard-to-treat cancers.  

Led by Tegan Taylor, Health and Science reporter for the ABC, hear from panellists Professor Palli Thordarson, Director of the UNSW RNA Institute; Conjoint Professor Maria Kavallaris AM, Head of Translational Cancer NanoMedicine Theme and UNSW Children's Cancer Institute; and Associate Professor Joshua McCarroll, Team Leader at Children’s Cancer Institute and Conjoint Associate Professor at UNSW Medicine & Health. Josh is a survivor of childhood cancer and understands better than most the importance of finding new cures and treatments for this most devastating of childhood diseases.   

This event is now presented online by UNSW Science, UNSW RNA Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health for National Science Week. 

Picture of Pall Thordarson

Professor Pall Thordarson

Director UNSW RNA Institute

Prof. Pall Thordarson (Palli) obtained his BSc. from the University of Iceland in 1996 and a PhD in Organic Chemistry from The University of Sydney in 2001. Following a Marie Curie Fellowship in the Netherlands he returned to Australia in 2003 and was then appointed at UNSW Sydney in 2007 as a Senior Lecturer where he became a Full Professor in 2017. He is currently the Director of the newly formed UNSW RNA Institute and the President-Elect of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI). He is also a program leader for the NSW RNA Production and Research Network and leads the NSW RNA Bioscience Alliance on the behalf of the NSW Vice-Chancellor’s Committee. 

Palli has published over 130 referred papers, including in prestigious journals such as Nature and Nature Nanotechnology. His research interest ranges from Nanomedicine and Light-harvesting Materials to Supramolecular and Systems Chemistry. He is focused on advancing our understanding of how molecules interact with one another and ‘self-assemble’, and how self-assembly can then be harnessed to create novel functional materials and systems. He has received a number of awards including the 2012 Le Fèvre Memorial Prize from the Australian Academy of Science for outstanding basic research in Chemistry by a Scientist under the age of 40.

Picture of Maria Kavallaris

Conjoint Professor Maria Kavallaris, AM

Head of Translational Cancer NanoMedicine Theme at the Children’s Cancer Institute

Professor Maria Kavallaris AM is Founding Director of the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine at UNSWs, Head of Translational Cancer NanoMedicine Theme at the Children’s Cancer Institute. Maria is recognised for her innovation in driving interdisciplinary research in cancer nanomedicine. An outstanding scientific leader, she is internationally recognised for her research in cancer biology and therapeutics. Her research has identified clinically important mechanisms of resistance to cancer therapies, with her discoveries leading to patents, industry and clinical linkages for the development of cancer therapeutics and devices. Maria’s pioneering research has shown effective nanoparticle-based delivery of gene silencing material and chemotherapy, can reduce tumour growth in aggressive cancers.

Maria is Chair of the Australian Institute for Policy and Science, and a Life Member and past-President of the Australian Society for Medical Research. The impact of her research has been recognised many times, including being named in 2015 amongst the AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence (Innovation category), as well as the inaugural Knowledge Nation 100 – the ‘rock stars’ of Australia's innovation-driven new economy. Maria received the 2017 Premiers Science and Engineering Award for Leadership in Innovation in NSW. The Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology awarded Maria the 2019 Lemberg Medal that recognises distinguished biochemists or molecular biologists, that have made significant contributions to the scientific community. She has won two Eureka Prizes that includes the 2021 ANSTO Eureka Award for Innovative use of Technology. In recognition of outstanding contributions, Maria was selected as the 2020 Premier’s NSW Woman of the Year. A recognised medical research leader, she has been appointed on government panels including NHMRCs and the Medical Research Future Fund, contributing to high level policy. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of NSW. In 2019, Maria was appointed a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia for her significant service to medicine, and to medical research, in the field of childhood and adult cancers.

Picture of Josh McCarroll

Conjoint Associate Professor Joshua McCarroll

Head of the Gene Therapeutics and Drug Delivery Group at Children’s Cancer Institute

Conjoint Associate Professor Joshua McCarroll is Head of the Gene Therapeutics and Drug Delivery Group at Children’s Cancer Institute and an invited member of the UNSW RNA Institute and Australian Centre for Nanomedicine, UNSW. His team uses RNA drugs to identify novel therapeutic gene targets in adult and childhood cancers. They also develop innovative nanoparticle drug carriers to deliver RNA drugs to solid tumours to silence the expression of cancer-promoting genes. He has attracted over $15M in grant funding and has published 67 papers and supervised 9 PhD and 8 Honours students to completion.

Picture of Tegan Taylor

Tegan Taylor

Health and Science Reporter for the ABC

Tegan Taylor is a health and science reporter for the ABC and co-host of the ABC’s multi-award-winning Coronacast.  
She also co-hosts ABC Radio National’s Health Report and hosts the live event series and radio/podcast Ockham’s Razor. She’s been known to pop up on RN Life Matters, Triple J and in the Best of Australian Science Writing. In 2020, Coronacast won a Walkley award and the Eureka Prize for Science Journalism. 
Tegan was previously a producer on the ABC's national digital newsdesk, a journalism lecturer at The University of Queensland and, long ago, a newspaper reporter.