Dr Orazio Vittorio joined Children’s Cancer Institute in 2013, and in 2019 was appointed Team Leader in the Metal-Targeted Therapy and Immunology Group following a highly competitive international selection process. Focusing on the childhood cancers neuroblastoma and gliomas (brain cancer), Orazio is investigating the role of metals such as copper in the growth of these tumours. His aim is to develop drugs that specifically target cellular pathways involving these metals, thereby halting tumour progression.
‘Currently used treatment drugs aren’t designed to specifically kill cancer cells,’ he explains. ‘We need to target cancer cells specifically, so we create less problems for healthy cells in the body.’
Orazio was one of the first scientists worldwide to discover the important role of copper in contributing to cancer immune evasion, highlighting the potential for repurposing copper chelators as enhancers of anti-tumour immunity. He has shown that removing copper from tumours results in reduced energy production and blood vessel formation and has recently discovered that copper is involved in multidrug resistance – one of the major clinical problems faced in the treatment of children with cancer. He has also developed a new method using a nuclear medicine imaging technique called PET to monitor the level of copper in tumours. In the coming years, he hopes to see his research contributing to new cancer treatments and new protocols for monitoring tumour growth and drug response.
A cancer survivor himself, Orazio understands the pressing need for research to lead to improved treatments. He feels an obligation as a scientist to help people with cancer, made all the more acute since becoming a father. ‘When you become a parent, you realise how precious your children are. When I think of families with children with cancer and what they are going through, it makes it even more important that I find a way to help.’
Orazio is a researcher in the Australian Centre for Nanomedicine and Scientia Senior Lecturer and NHMRC Career Development Fellow within the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW Sydney
2018 - Early Career Researcher Best Publication Award, School of Women's and Children's Health, UNSW
2018 - UNSW Postgraduate Research Supervisor Award
2017 - NanoMedicine Elevator Pitches Award, UNSW
2015 - The SPOT Award, Children Cancer Institute
2013 - The Kids' Cancer Project Award, NSW Premier's Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research
2008 - Rotary/Lions Club Prize for Innovative Research in Medicine and Biology