Meet a Researcher: Q&A with Dr Alvin Kamili

06 Mar 2017

Dr Alvin Kamili is Preclinical Drug Testing Core Team Leader in the Zero Childhood Cancer personalised medicine program. He tells us about his role and the challenges he’s solving in the lead-up to the program’s national clinical trial.

Zero Childhood Cancer is one of the most ambitious initiatives for childhood cancer ever undertaken in Australia and it’s led by Children’s Cancer Institute and Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. Now, over to Alvin . . .

Q: Can you tell us about the work you do?

A: My work is focused on neuroblastoma in the personalised medicine program. Neuroblastoma is one of four main tumour types in the program and represents about 11% of patients enrolled in the pilot study.

I’ve developed a method for isolating and culturing cells from tumour samples from high-risk neuroblastoma patients. These cells are used for molecular profiling, where we look for genetic changes that can be targeted by specific therapies. The cells are also put in an ex vivo (outside the body) drug screen, to see if they are sensitive to a range of anti-cancer agents.

Once we’ve found what looks to be the best treatment for a particular patient, we want to be able to test it in a living organism, called ‘in vivo’ testing. So I’m optimising a patient-derived xenograft (PDX) model for neuroblastoma. With this PDX model, we can use an avatar mouse containing the patient’s cancer cells to test how well the chosen drugs work. It’s the best predictor we have for different treatments’ effectiveness on real patients in the clinic.

We need to do preclinical drug testing quickly and accurately. The challenge is to make sure the PDX model using each child’s cancer cells can be established in a usable, clinically relevant time frame. Children on the program are very sick and we need to get reliable information to clinicians in time to guide treatment decisions.

Q: How did you become part of the Zero Childhood Cancer program?

A: I came from Indonesia in 2003 to study a Bachelor of Medical Science at UNSW. After my PhD I worked at the Children’s Hospital, Westmead and in 2014 I joined Children’s Cancer Institute.

At that time, there was no neuroblastoma PDX model here for testing experimental therapeutic drugs, so my job was to develop one. This year I joined the Zero Childhood Cancer program as a Preclinical Drug Testing Core Team Leader. It’s a challenging job but very rewarding to know I can make a difference to children with some of the worst cancers.

Q: What do you think the program will mean for kids with cancer?

A: Cancer is different in every patient. With Zero Childhood Cancer, we’ll help make sure that every child has the best treatment option for their particular cancer. I’d like to see every child, healthy or sick, be able to play and pursue their dreams.

Q: Can you tell us something about you not many people know?

The Kamilis holidaying in Hong Kong

A: I’m married to my kindergarten friend. We went to kindergarten and elementary school together in Indonesia, but after that we lost contact. We met again in Sydney in 2003, when she was here studying too. We got married in Jakarta in 2013.

Read more about Zero Childhood Cancer and see how it’s giving hope to children who are at highest risk of treatment failure.