Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Drawing ahead of cancer

By Science in Public

Mark Shackleton has been awarded the Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

When he was five, Mark Shackleton’s grandmother asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. “I am going to cure cancer,” came the confident reply amid raucous family laughter.

Although he’s not there yet, the winner of the 2012 Science Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, Dr Mark Shackleton, is already changing the way researchers view, approach and treat cancer.

In his PhD studies on breast cancer at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) in Melbourne, Mark demonstrated for the first time that an entire solid organ—a functioning breast—could be grown from a single cell, a stem cell. He thus proved that, although rare, stem cells exist in solid organs and contribute importantly to normal organ function.

Along with other research at the time, this strengthened a prevailing view that cancers were organised like normal organs, maintained by cancerous stem cells that drove tumour growth. Mark then proceeded, however, to destroy that view and in the process turned the field of cancer research on its head.

In post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan on the deadly skin cancer known as melanoma, Mark showed that a high proportion of the cells in these tumours—at least one in four—is capable of producing cancerous offspring. This meant that instead of trying to seek out and destroy rare cancer stem cells...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.