Originally from the Netherlands, Dr Emmy Fleuren moved to Australia from the UK to join Children’s Cancer Institute in 2019. As Team Leader in the Sarcoma Biology and Therapeutics Group, she leads research into identifying novel therapeutic targets in sarcoma – a diverse group of cancers that affect the connective tissues of the body, including bones, muscles and fat, which are mostly found in children, adolescents and young adults (AYAs).
‘I always had an interest in cancer, but it wasn’t until I started my PhD that I became interested in sarcoma,’ says Emmy. ‘I got to know a girl with Ewing sarcoma who’d been through many treatments, including an amputation. When she died, I decided I wanted to work on these cancers. They are so aggressive, people affected are often very young, and treatment is so harsh.’
Emmy is dedicated to helping improve the cure rate of children with sarcoma using therapies that specifically target tumour cells and are therefore not only more effective, but also much less likely to cause damaging side effects. Currently, her main focus is looking for proteins that are overexpressed in sarcoma cells and she is working towards pinpointing those that are actually driving the disease (so-called ‘activated proteins’).
In previous collaborative research, Emmy has successfully identified novel drivers of a particularly difficult to treat type of sarcoma, one of the most significant being a protein called ALK. Having shown in the laboratory that treating a specific subset of sarcomas with an ALK inhibitor results in almost complete tumour regression, she is now looking to translate her research to the clinic.
Emmy says she joined Children’s Cancer Institute to work on the Zero Childhood Cancer Program (ZERO) which recommends treatments for children based on the results of tumour analysis. ‘My goal is to use the targeted treatment strategies that we develop in the lab to help the children with sarcoma taking part in the Program, and we are making encouraging progress in our research’ she says. Recently, she was appointed Sarcoma Expert within ZERO’s Preclinical Drug Testing Core.
Emmy is actively working with other research groups at the Institute to maximize our chances of curing sarcoma, using approaches such as immunotherapy and combination therapies.
2021, Cancer Institute NSW Early Career Fellowship
2019, Early Career Researcher Travel Grant – Kids Cancer Alliance
2019, Early Career Researcher Rapid-fire 2nd place - Kids Cancer Alliance
2018, Travel grant – Biochemical Society
2017, Young Researcher Award - EURO EWING Consortium (EEC) and Peter Pan Charity
2016, Featured article in Nat Rev Cancer (Fleuren 2016; Nat Rev Cancer; 16:83–98)
2015, Best Oncology thesis of the Netherlands and Vlaanderen 2015 – NVMO
2014, Travel grant - Dutch Cancer Society (KWF)
2011, Article and image featured in highlights section of Clin Cancer Res (2011;17:7503)