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Dr Kara Vine-Perrow shines in cancer research

By Linda Music

Despite receiving multiple prestigious awards, CONCERT Member of the Month, Dr Kara Vine-Perrow, lists her greatest professional achievement as watching her students and staff transform into independent researchers.

“I love seeing my students and staff pave their way into diverse and successful career paths,” says Dr Vine-Perrow.

And thanks to Dr Vine-Perrow’s support, they definitely have.

“One PhD student pursued a career at ANSTO as lead Radiochemist and is now Associate Editor for the journal, Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry. This year, my research assistant and previous BMedBiotech Hon student, Ashleigh Hope, received the International Women’s Day Dr Margaret Gardiner Scholarship for Medical Research while my postdoc and former PhD student, Dr Samantha Wade received this year’s NSW Young Woman of the Year award.” (Read story here)

It is this dedication to her staff and students that saw Kara recognised with a University of Wollongong Vice Chancellor’s Excellence in Research supervision award.

Dr Vine-Perrow (third from left) with her research team

If Dr Vine-Perrow, who is Senior Research Fellow and Group Leader of the Targeted Cancer Therapeutics Research Lab at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute UOW, won’t boast about her own achievements, we certainly will.

Completing her PhD in cancer cell biology from UOW in 2007, Dr Vine-Perrow moved overseas to train internationally in cancer biology and metastasis at the Finsen Laboratory, Copenhagen, Denmark and University of Malmo, Sweden.

Her research program is centred on understanding the mechanisms that drive chemotherapeutic drug resistance in cancer and the development of novel nanomedicines and polymeric scaffolds for site-specific drug delivery. In addition to this, Dr Vine-Perrow has been developing and patenting a technology for the localised treatment of pancreatic ductal carcinoma.

“I’m looking forward to progressing this to human clinical trials in the coming years. It would be my ultimate career highlight,” Dr Vine-Perrow said.

In the last five years, her contribution to the field of drug delivery has been recognised with a number of awards and prizes including: the Dame Bridget Ogilvie Clinical Research Excellence Award, Finalist IDE Building Better Futures for Health Challenge and Dr Margaret Gardiner Medical Research Scholarship. She recently received a prestigious CI NSW Career Development Fellowship for work on Localised Immunotherapy for Pancreatic Cancer: Priming the tumour micro-environment to enhance tumour immunity to checkpoint blockade. In 2019, she was also appointed Vice-President of the Australian Chapter of the Controlled Release Society.

Dr Vine-Perrow’s research has been supported by philanthropic, national and international funding including Pancare Foundation, Motor Neurone Disease Research Institute of Australia, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Cancer Australia, the Illawarra Cancer Carers and the U.S. Department of Defence.

Her 52 scholarly outputs include 37 journal articles, eight published abstracts, three book chapters and four patents. 27 of her papers have been published in the last five years with more than 85% of these published in the top 20% of journals in the field.

In addition to her research where she currently leads a team of 11 scientists, Dr Vine-Perrow also lectures at UOW.

“I have consistently sought out opportunities to teach, mentor and supervise students. I contribute to tertiary teaching at varying levels including teaching at undergraduate level and research training at postgraduate level within the School of Chemistry and Molecular Bioscience.”

Dr Vine-Perrow has also lectured in the Graduate School of Medicine at UOW as well as for the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales.

One might think that with such a busy schedule and huge list of achievements, you’d find Dr Vine-Perrow resting on the weekends. Not so. When she’s not working, you’ll find her outdoors.

“I have a love of nature and anything adventurous including hiking, running surfing and snorkelling. My husband and I had plans to hike the Larapinta trail, a 231 km path that follows the rocky spine of the West MacDonnell Ranges in the NT before COVID hit last year,” she explains.

To make up for it, she’s now planning an alternative trip to Ningaloo reef in WA to swim with whale sharks later this year.

Kara is also a mother of two children, aged 8 and 11, and explains that being a positive role model to them is one of her greatest personal achievements.

Asked about her plans for the future, Dr Vine-Perrow explains she would love to own a vineyard in Tasmania or New Zealand where she can bring her love of chemistry and wine together and become a vintner.

Ultimately however, Dr Vine-Perrow’s dreams that her work will have a positive impact on future cancer patients.

“I’d love to see the translational research projects I’m leading, progress to the clinic and ultimately improve patient outcomes.”