Dr Raelene Endersby
Co-Head, Brain Tumour Research Programme, Telethon Kid’s Institute
The 26th of September is Childhood Brain Cancer Awareness Day. This national day aims to raise community awareness of all childhood brain cancers and this year has a special focus on Medulloblastoma. Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain cancer in children with the majority of these occurring in children under the age of 10. Only about 70% of children diagnosed with this type of brain cancer survive. As one of our world class research scientists who specialises in childhood brain cancer, Dr Raelene Endersby knows these statistics only too well.
Raelene began her career by undertaking a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and developed a particular interest in how defects in genetics can cause human disease. This led initially to a PhD in leukaemia, awarded from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, and then a shift to specialising in childhood brain cancer. Raelene completed her postdoctoral training in the Neurobiology and Brain Tumour Program at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, USA.
After 7 years at St Jude, Raelene returned to Perth and is now the Co-Head of the Brain Tumour Research Program at the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia, which she co-leads with Professor Nick Gottardo. They work alongside a collaborative group of clinicians, neurosurgeons and laboratory scientists to understand the effects of cancer-associated genetics on normal brain development and brain cancer development, investigating potential therapeutic targets and developing exceptional research pipelines that allow the evaluation of novel treatments prior to clinical trial.
‘Research has and will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of the children with brain cancer. Fundamental research is really important. The knowledge will be instrumental in the development of new treatments.’
Raelene’s enthusiasm for research is contagious. She actively encourages young scientists to pursue careers in medical research and is currently mentoring and supervising multiple graduate and honours students.
‘Mentoring a student, and seeing them write, publish and defend their thesis is a really fulfilling part of my role. Being an academic researcher allows me to mentor some of the big picture research that I truly believe in the future will make an impact on the lives of children with brain cancer.’
Raelene, Professor Nick Gottardo and the Brain Tumour Research Program team are currently working on an estimated 20 different research projects. One of their previous research discoveries has now been developed into an ANZCHOG clinical trial. After eight years of pre-clinical laboratory testing the SJ ELIOT trial was opened in Australia and the USA in 2020. This international Phase 1 trial is the first to test the safety and effectiveness of a new drug, prexasertib, in combination with chemotherapy to treat medulloblastoma. The trial will recruit 60 to 70 children who have relapsed from the disease and track their response to the drug over two years. Raelene is a collaborating investigator on this clinical trial; contributing at each step of the process from the development of the protocol to applying for funding, and will also be part of the team that analyses the data collected from the trial at completion.
‘Each clinical trial currently available to children with brain cancer has years, if not decades of research behind them. Any one of the projects we are currently working on could lead to the next advancement in treatment. That is what makes this job so unique and rewarding.’
The paediatric cancer research landscape is quite unique. Researchers don’t work in isolation. They collaborate with their research and clinical colleagues within their institutions, nationally and sometimes internationally.
‘The pre-clinical research that was undertaken for the SJ EliOT trial involved people from across the United States, Europe and Australia. Genuine collaboration can be logistically very difficult but it is something I hope occurs more in the future as we work together toward better outcomes for all children diagnosed with cancer.’
Below are the different health professionals and researchers we have shone a light on during September
- ANZCHOG Chair (Professor Nick Gottardo)
- Principal Research Fellow (Natalie Bradford)
- Paediatric Oncologist (Dr Tristan Pettit)
- Clinical Research Nurse (Reg Gayaman)
- Clinical Nurse Consultant (Helen Starosta)
- Consumer (Anne Kay)
- Pharmacist (Hayley Vasileff)
- Senior Research Fellow (Dr Jennifer Cohen)
- Psycho-oncology clinician & researcher (Associate Professor Maria McCarthy)
- Social Worker (Tanya Alestalo)
- ANZCHOG Chief Executive Officer (Robyn Strong)