Medical Oncology Research Fellow, Dr Ashray Gunjur has received the prestigious 2021 John Monash Scholarship.
He was selected as someone who demonstrates excellence in their field, has leadership ability, and a vision to deliver a positive impact for the benefit of Australia.
“These are the people who have the potential to change the world and this scholarship puts the recipients on a pathway to achieve that potential,” said Chairman of the General Sir John Monash Foundation, Jilian Segal AO.
The scholarship will see Dr Gunjur attend the world-leading Wellcome Sanger Institute at Cambridge University where he will complete his PhD in understanding cancer immunotherapy: the revolution in cancer treatment that harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
“I was inspired to a career in medical oncology out of a driving desire to see people affected by cancer worldwide leading longer and happier lives,” said Dr Gunjur.
“Fortunately we’ve made remarkable progress in the past decade, and one great example of that is with cancer immune checkpoint inhibitors.
“We now have treatments that can stop cancer cells from ‘hiding’ from the immune system, and for some people with cancers like melanoma, lung and kidney cancers, they have been game changers. Their cancers have melted away.
“Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to all patients treated with cancer immunotherapy, and we currently can’t reliably predict in advance who will benefit or not, and who will have side effects from these treatments.
“One of the keys to predicting this response seems to lie in our gut microbiome; the hundreds of bacterial species that live within or guts, that have co-evolved with us over the course of our lives, and seem to help shape our immune system.
“We now know the gut microbiome seems involved in lots of diseases, including infections, auto-immune conditions, and cancers.
“The Wellcome Sanger Institute is a world leader in studying the genetics of tumours as well as the gut microbiome, and has invented new ways to do this in a really high resolution way.
"I’ll plan to study these factors, as well as others, to try to develop a way to predict response or non-response to cancer immune checkpoint inhibitors in advance.
“Also, the gut microbiome can actually be changed, so this study will lead into trials of whether inducing ‘good’ bacteria can help our immune systems fight off cancer, improving our current immunotherapies,” he said.
Dr Gunjur wanted to thank all his senior colleagues for their ongoing support, and hopes to continue collaborating with them into the future.
“I want to continue collaborating with the exceptional people at the ONJ Cancer Centre, in research and in clinical practice, with the hope that we help those with cancer,” he said.