Brain Tumours  

Our goal is to develop new therapies for childhood brain cancers that can be rapidly translated into the clinic.

Group Leader

What we do

Our laboratory focuses on the development of novel therapies for the most aggressive childhood cancers. A key area of our research is investigating new treatment strategies for malignant and incurable childhood brain tumoursIn particular, we have a strong research focus on diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).

DIPG is a highly malignant glioma that arises in early childhood, with an average survival time from diagnosis of 9 to 12 months. Because these cancers grow in the brainstem, the most critical part of the brainthey are not amenable to surgery, or even biopsy. Patients do not respond to chemotherapy, and radiation therapy only results in a short delay in tumour progression.

Our team is working on several new treatments for DIPG and other brain cancers that hold promise as new, active therapies. We have ongoing collaborations with international partners to bring these treatments to the clinic to improve outcomes for children with brain cancer.

Funding for our research comes from a variety of sources, including the National Health and Medical Research Council, Cancer Australia, Medical Research Future Fund, Cancer Institute NSW, Kids Cancer Alliance, The Cure Starts Now, The Kids Cancer Project, Robert Connor Dawes Foundation, Benny Wills Brain Tumour Fund, Dainere’s Rainbow Brain Tumour Research Fund, Isaac McInnes Fund, and Levi’s Project.

Research projects

DIPG cell cultures

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Contact: A/Prof David Ziegler,

A critical problem in improving treatments for DIPG has been the lack of surgical tissue for biological studies in the laboratory. To address this, we initiated a national DIPG tumour donation program.

With tissue donated from post-mortem samples, we have grown a panel of DIPG neurosphere cultures. These represent a unique platform on which to investigate the biology of DIPG and to test novel therapies. We have also developed unique mouse models of DIPG and performed robotic high throughput screens to identify novel therapeutic approaches. Further combination screens of the most effective compounds have identified potentially useful combination therapies.

Therapeutic strategies for DIPG and other high-risk brain tumours

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Contact: A/Prof David Ziegler,

We are currently investigating a number of different therapeutic strategies to treat DIPG and other high-risk brain tumours. These strategies include:

  • Modulation of cellular metabolism.

  • Targeting the mitochondria – the cancer cell’s powerhouse.

  • Targeting the epigenome.

  • Targeting cellular growth factors and tyrosine kinases.

  • Targeting the cell cycle apparatus.

  • Developing radiation therapy sensitising agents.

  • Investigating novel immunotherapeutic strategies.

We recognise that none of these strategies alone is likely to be sufficient to eradicate tumours such as DIPG. We therefore have a strong emphasis on developing rational combination therapies.

Personalised therapies for brain tumours

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Contact: A/Prof David Ziegler,

The Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) seeks to identify personalised therapies for children with high risk cancers. Within ZERO, the Brain Tumours Group leads the brain tumour arm of the program, which provides genomic analysis, in vitro drug screening, and in vivo personalised xenograft models for children with brain tumours.

In addition to defining novel therapeutic approaches for children participating in the ZERO national clinical trial (which A/Prof Ziegler chairsin real time, our group leads a research discovery program that utilises the rich database of genomic and drug screening data being generated by ZERO to investigate novel therapies for all high risk childhood brain tumours.

Levi's Project: A future for kids with DIPG

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Contact: A/Prof David Ziegler,

Levi’s project is a dedicated DIPG research project named in honour of 8-year-old Levi Wheeler. The project builds on research previously done at Children’s Cancer Institute. We have already established Australia’s first-ever DIPG tumour bank, which contains samples of tumours from children with DIPG, and have tested a range of drugs against DIPG cells grown from these samples.

To date, we have identified five drugs that appear to be highly effective at killing DIPG cells, and have tested these in our laboratory models of disease. The results have been extremely promising and strongly suggest that a coordinated combination of these drugs has the potential to significantly improve survival in children with DIPG.

We are now conducting a series of experiments to find out the most effective combinations of these drugs against DIPG, and will work with our clinical colleagues to take these drugs to clinical trial in children. By working out which combinations of drugs work best, at what doses, and with which timing, a comprehensive clinical protocol can be developed to use in children diagnosed with DIPG.


Senior Scientist, Levi Wheeler Fellow

Dr Maria Tsoli

Senior Scientist

Dr Benjamin Rayner

Research Officers

Dr Laura Franshaw

Dr Dannielle Upton

Dr Rebecca Lehmann

Senior Research Assistant

Jie Liu

Research Assistants

Bede Johnston

Christopher Katsinas

Elisha Hayden

Sandra George

PhD Students

Aaminah Khan

Caitlin Ung

News & blogs

Get in touch

Do you have a question about our work? For any enquiries please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Your donation will fund research that will save young lives!