In Focus: Murdoch Children's Research Institute

Interior of the MCRI; picture taken from an upper floor in an atrium-style area, many floors are visible below.
Learn more about the institutes we support through our In Focus series.

Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) is the largest child health research institute in Australia and one of the top five in the world.

More than 1,900 researchers work at MCRI, all committed to making discoveries to prevent and treat childhood conditions. Many of the researchers are also clinicians at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, where MCRI is based. Their research is shaped around patients and that means when a discovery is made, it is transformed into practical treatments for children.

Meet the scientist we've funded at Murdoch Children's Research Institute 

Dr Rachel Conyers

Dr Rachel Conyers is a paediatric, adolescent and young adult oncologist. At the MCRI cardiac laboratory, she is researching how to minimise the damage a key chemotherapeutic drug has on children’s hearts. The drug class, anthracyclines, are used to treat more than 70 per cent of childhood and adolescent malignancies and have boosted childhood cancer survival rates. However, a major side effect of anthracyclines is the irreversible and sometimes fatal heart damage in some patients. Cancer survivors treated with these drugs are nine times more likely, than average, to develop heart failure. Dr Conyers is working with Dr David Elliot, and together, they have found that patients who develop heart disease have special genetic markers. 

Dr Conyers has recently commenced the Australian Cardio-Oncology Registry and biobanking study. This national study will look to enroll paediatric oncology patients nationally. The project will analyze blood samples and, from the blood samples, the child’s genomics, in an effort to pinpoint the gene variations that may explain heart toxicity. Dr Conyers registry and biobanking study will improve the understanding of the incidence and natural history of cardiac toxicity for the paediatric population. In addition it will help improve the understanding of the genetic basis of chemotherapy-induced heart failure. All samples come from MCRI’s Children’s Cancer Centre (CCC) Tissue Bank, a world-class resource for researchers studying childhood and adolescent/young adult (AYA) cancer.

Dr Conyers hopes that one day in the not-too-distant future patients can be tested for susceptibility to cardiotoxicty and their cancer treatment will be tailored to avoid heart damage.

Read more: Understanding the genetic basis of chemotherapy.

Donate to research and help find more effective treatments for kids with cancer.