Childhood cancer researcher and cancer survivor Dr Orazio Vittorio has been awarded ‘Outstanding Cancer Research Fellow’ at the 2020 Cancer Institute New South Wales (CINSW) Research Awards − the state’s leading awards program to celebrate excellence and innovation in cancer research.
Dr Vittorio leads a research group at Children’s Cancer Institute investigating the role that metals such as copper play in the growth of cancers, with the aim of developing new and improved therapies. He is also a researcher in the Australian Centre for Nanomedicine, and Scientia Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine & Health at UNSW.
As the recipient of the award, which is presented annually to an early career researcher who has demonstrated exceptional research progress during the year, Dr Vittorio will receive $10,000 towards his research endeavours.
“It’s a great honour for me to accept this award,” Dr Vittorio said. “Cancer Institute NSW has supported my research since the beginning.”
Dr Vittorio has made a name for himself in metallomics, an exciting new field in medical research investigating the role that metal elements play in our health. Among other discoveries, he has found that high levels of copper help cancer cells evade the body’s immune system, as well as resist the effects of anticancer drugs. He has also developed a new imaging technique based on detecting copper levels, which may lead to a new way of monitoring tumour growth and treatment response in cancer patients.
“I am an innovator … I like to look in directions where no one has looked before,” Dr Vittorio explained. “If you want to achieve something you never had, you need to do something you have never done.
“This award is further confirmation that my science and my work are going in the right direction. I want to improve survival in kids with cancers; the types of cancers where we haven’t seen any real improvement in the last 20 years, like aggressive brain tumours.”
A cancer survivor himself, Dr Vittorio understands the pressing need for better treatments.
“Most treatment drugs used in children haven’t been designed to specifically kill cancer cells – they kill all rapidly dividing cells. This is particularly a problem in young growing bodies and causes a whole range of side effects. There is an urgent need to develop targeted therapies − drugs that specifically target cancer cells.
“When I think of kids with cancer, and what their families are going through, it makes it all the more pressing that I find a way to help.”