UNSW Medicine's thematic approach to research draws on the strengths of UNSW Medicine as well as internal and external partners to achieve significant breakthroughs in crucial areas of healthcare.



Our cancer researchers are internationally recognised clinicians, researchers and educators. Our expertise spans the basic sciences, clinical trials, implementation research, public health and health services research. From experience, we know that cross-disciplinary collaboration is the most effective way to turn scientific discoveries into cures.

Our vision is to unite cancer research into a globally-leading partnership to deliver continuing evidence-based practice in diagnosis, intervention and support.

What is cancer – the deadly disease that affects the lives of millions of people around the world each year? And… why do some people get it, and others not? In this video UNSW Medicine cancer researcher A/Prof Darren Saunders says cancer is one of the greatest health challenges of our time. There is so much more to do to advance prevention, treatment and cure this deadly disease.


Cancer will affect 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women by the age of 75. Medical research has transformed the outlook for cancer patients in recent decades. Better treatment and survival mean there are now hundreds of thousands of people in NSW who have cancer or are living with it.

Our research aims to benefit people at all stages of their encounter with cancer – from prevention to treatment and survivorship support. We focus on the following key areas:

•    Cancers with poor outcomes (lead Prof David Goldstein): We are prioritising traditionally under-funded and neglected cancers where the survival rate has not improved such as brain, sarcomas (and rare cancers in general), pancreas and ovary. We are working to find new therapeutics and better management of advanced disease for people with these cancers. Critically, our ability to attract Phase I pharmaceutical studies in difficult-to-treat cancers like glioblastoma and pancreatic cancer is already demonstrated by research teams based at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre (Randwick precinct) and Ingham Institute (Liverpool precinct).

•    Bringing ‘omics’ into clinical practice (lead Prof David Thomas): In the wake of the explosion of knowledge about the human genome, proteome (the proteins expressed by cells and tissues) and metabolome (the chemicals found in cells) we believe it is imperative to now translate these gains into better clinical practice. We are working to link 'omic' information with the vast store of clinical and radiological data so that knowledge gains in the laboratory can drive improved diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Garvan Institute are at the forefront of this research internationally and have unique infrastructure and experience to bring to the collaboration.

•    Reducing unwarranted variation in clinical practice (lead A/Prof Winston Liauw): Variation in clinical practice can result in avoidable trauma for cancer patients and unnecessary costs to our healthcare system. There is a critical need worldwide to build research infrastructure to analyse the nature, cause and consequences of clinical variation.  We are building a unique information platform to enable a consistent approach to data collection and reporting, so patterns, value and outcomes of cancer care can be evaluated effectively. The Centre for Big Data Research in Health and their ERICA framework is key to this initiative.

•    Living better with and after cancer (lead Prof Meera Agar): The focus of this area is to improve outcomes for palliation and survivorship, so patients can live better with and after cancer. The prevalence of cancer is at least five times the cancer incidence, meaning there are hundreds of thousands of people in NSW who have had cancer or are living with it. We are working to develop innovative approaches which provide better, individually tailored and more cost-effective care to those who are living in the community with cancer and its effects.


Our goal is to unite and consolidate cancer research into a leading international partnership that improves the survival and quality of life for all people affected by cancer. Working through the four Areas of Focus, we are building co-ordinated research teams to leverage, focus and build scale on current and developing strengths. 

We partner with consumers, government and non-government organisations, charities and industry to achieve significant breakthroughs in areas of health that are clinically relevant and rapidly implement the findings to improve outcomes.

Many of our researchers are also clinicians who work in:
South Eastern Sydney Local Health District
South Western Sydney Local Health District
St Vincent's Hospital Sydney
Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick

Our research is conducted in renowned centres and institutes, including: 
Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research
Lowy Cancer Research Centre
Children’s Cancer Institute
Garvan Institute of Medical Research
Centre for Big Data Research in Health

Our clinicians and researchers collaborate through the Cancer Institute NSW Translational Cancer Research Centres, helping to accelerate implementation of research findings into clinical practice and to increase research productivity and quality.

We also lead the Cancer Clinical Academic Group (Cancer CAG) within SPHERE, an NHMRC-accredited Advanced Health Research and Translation Centre. This alliance harnesses the power of researchers and clinicians at three Universities, three Medical Research Institutes and four major Sydney Teaching Hospitals.


We are leaders in running clinical trials, including Australia’s first Molecular Screening and Trials study in rare cancers, the first medicinal cannabis study and other large-scale investigator-driven international Phase 2/3 studies. Through the Garvan’s Illumina XTen facility, which is unique in the Southern Hemisphere, we are discovering new genes associated with cancer risk and progression that will lead to preventative and therapeutic targets.

We host outstanding clinical facilities that deliver complex services to difficult and rare cancer cases and are involved in the global fight for cancer control through involvement with United Nations agencies such as the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. 


Cancer Clinical Academic Group Strategy 2017 – 2019. 


The UNSW Medicine Cancer Theme and SPHERE Cancer Clinical Academic Group are merged to streamline governance and administration so that we can focus on supporting research.

Scientia Professor Michael Barton OAM is Principal of the Cancer Theme and Lead of the Cancer CAG. He chairs both the Management and Executive Committees. 

Governance includes the Directors of Cancer Services for SWSLHD and SESLHD and the Kinghorn Cancer Centre in the St Vincent’s precinct. This ensures that we are aligned with our healthcare partner priorities.

Our Management Committee includes independent consumers and community organisations with broad consumer reach and understanding. Leadership from clinicians, academics and others from across the SPHERE network who are experienced in knowledge translation and implementation of evidence into clinical practice ensures projects are designed and conducted to realise uptake and impact. Our committee members participate widely in state, national and international activities and agencies.

Each of our four Areas of Focus has a clinical lead from a different organisational partner. Together with the Chair, they make up the Executive Committee:
•    Cancers with poor outcomes - Prof David Goldstein (UNSW Sydney)
•    Bringing ‘OMICs’ into clinical practice - Prof David Thomas (Garvan Institute)
•    Reducing unwarranted clinical variation - A/Prof Winston Liauw (SESLHD)
•    Living better with and after cancer - Prof Meera Agar (UTS)

Strategic priorities with defined objectives provide the framework for our activities.

Initiatives and funding

Current initiatives in place to support research include:

Cancer CAG E/MCR Seed grants

Grants of up to $50,000 for 1 year are available for early- and mid-career researchers (up to 15 years post-PhD) to lead collaborative projects that align with our Areas of Focus and BIG Ideas identified for each.

Clinicians (all types of healthcare professional) are encouraged to apply. Non-clinical Associate Professors and Professors (Levels D and E) are NOT eligible as Project Leads but can be included in the team. Projects must be clinically informed (including discovery research), demonstrated by inclusion of at least one clinician in the team.

Proposals must be substantive, cross-disciplinary initiatives. Successful awards will focus on building novel programs and solutions or transforming existing research across disparate organisational/geographical hubs into new, harmonised models of research.

Deadline: 8 Dec 2019

Apply now!


BIG Ideas workshops

An increased focus on collaboration in cancer research will facilitate larger research projects that leverage the local landscape and add value over and above pre-existing initiatives and capabilities. Workshops have been held for each of our four Areas of Focus and BIG Ideas identified for each of them.

Big Ideas contribute to portfolio development, with a focus on innovation, creativity and discovery. If you have a BIG Idea to contribute, submit it at any time using the following template.


Cancer CAG Seed grant scheme

An annual seed grant scheme is offered by the Cancer CAG to support development of new research collaborations across organisations and disciplines. Projects are expected to focus on building novel programs and solutions or transforming existing research across disparate organisational/geographical hubs into a new, harmonised entity. Unsuccessful seed grants are eligible for other forms of support from the Cancer CAG, including grant preparation support or leverage funds for external funding applications above $2M and philanthropic exposure.


Networking support

We are developing visibility of the research workforce across the SPHERE partnership. An enabling platform – the UNSW-SPHERE CRM – is in development to facilitate this. If you are looking for individuals or groups with specific skills or interests, we are also happy to assist where possible.


Secondment / Exchange Program

The Cancer CAG supports capacity building and networking across the SPHERE partnership. Placements and exchange are an opportunity to promote network development and researcher training by linking partner organisations, health districts and clinical/laboratory environments. Grants of up to $20,000, supported by a detailed budget, are available for secondment / exchange with no deadline for application.

Get involved

Join an Area of Focus (or even all four!)
If you have an interest in one or more of our Areas of Focus, please send us an email and we’ll add you to the distribution lists. You may like to be part of research planning meetings, BIG Ideas workshops or other events involving researchers and clinicians with complimentary research interests.

Follow us on Twitter
Our Twitter handle is @CancerSPHERE. Follow us to be part of the conversation on all things cancer research. A focus of this account is to promote your collaborative research findings and contribution to conferences and other professional events. Tag @CancerSPHERE in your tweets so we can share your activities and success.

Contribute to the Cancer CAG eNewsletter
Information on news, events, resources and grant opportunities for cancer researchers is distributed in a fortnightly newsletter. Would you like to promote your news, opportunity or event across the network? Send us an email with the content and we can include it.

Subscribe to receive your copy at this link.

Support us

If you’d like to support cancer research please see information on volunteer and philanthropic opportunities at: Support Us


Contact us

If you would like more information on current or developing Cancer Theme and Clinical Academic Group initiatives, please contact us.

Professor Michael Barton OAM                                                                                     
Principal, Cancer Theme                                                                                           
Lead, Cancer CAG                                                                                                                                                                       
Dr Tanya Ward 
Executive Officer, Cancer Theme and Clinical Academic Group
Ph: 0478492184

Cancer Newsletters