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2021 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year

Professor Sherene Loi    

Professor Sherene Loi, medical oncologist and Head of the Translational Breast Cancer Laboratory at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, is recognised for translating scientific findings into innovative treatments that can improve the survival of breast cancer patients in Australia and around the world.

Her research has led to the development and implementation of an immune biomarker test for breast cancer, to help manage patients with the advanced disease. This biomarker is now part of routine pathology reporting for breast cancer in many countries, and is included in the World Health Organisation Classification of Tumours: Breast Tumours (also known as the WHO Blue Book on Breast Tumours).

Professor Loi has also made a significant contribution to the first worldwide approval of immunotherapy for patients with the most aggressive type of breast cancer.

Watch a video about their work

[Music plays and the image shows the Australian Government Crest, Frank Fenner Prize Life Scientist of the Year medallion animated and turning, and the words 2021 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, and the name, Professor Sherene Loi]

[Image changes to show Professor Sherene Loi sitting at a table talking to the camera]

Dr Sherene Loi: My name is Dr Sherene Loi. I'm a Medical Oncologist and I work at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

[Image changes to show Sherene with a patient looking at a computer screen]

My focus is on breast cancer research and treatment.

[Image changes to show Sherene talking to the patient and pointing to the computer screen, and then the image changes back to show Sherene talking to the camera]

My research tries to understand the interaction between a patient's immune system and their breast cancer. In order to help us understand how the immune system is interacting with the patient's breast cancer, we've developed a method to count the number of immune cells in a breast cancer sample.

[Images move through to show Sherene watching a researcher at work in the laboratory]

After analysing thousands of samples. Now we understand that the more immune cells you have in your breast cancer sample, the better the chance you have of responding to chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

[Image changes to show a close view of cells and an area is circled and labelled: Lymphocytes/plasma cells = TILs]

Immunotherapy works to harness the patient's own immune system against their cancer.

[Image changes to show another area on the cells circled and labelled “Cancer cells”, and then the image changes to show Sherene looking in a microscope]

This is different from traditional cancer therapies, which focus directly on the tumour. This method has now been recognised by the World Health Organization and was included in their last Blue Book on Breast Tumours.

[Images move through of a close view of Sherene talking, and then Sherene and a colleague looking at a microscope slide]

In 2015, we conducted some of the first immunotherapy trials for breast cancer patients in the world at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

[Image changes to show a profile view of Sherene talking to the camera]

These trials resulted in the first worldwide approval of immunotherapy for the treatment of patients with triple negative breast cancer. That is the most aggressive breast cancer type.

[Images move through of Sherene looking at a microscope slide, and then the image changes to show Sherene working on a computer]

Immunotherapy is now being widely used for the treatment of patients with triple negative breast cancer in America and we hope that soon we'll be able to use it for Australian patients here.

[Images move through of Sherene and a colleague in conversation, and then the image changes to show Sherene talking to the camera]

We are now working with multiple biotech and pharmaceutical companies to try and improve our current immunotherapies to get closer to curing more patients from their breast cancer.

[Images move through of a close view of Sherene in a laboratory, Sherene walking towards the camera through a laboratory, and Sherene and a colleague walking towards the camera]

To receive the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year is a great honour and a privilege.

[Image changes to show Sherene talking to the camera]

I'm accepting this award on behalf of my many collaborators, because it really takes a village to achieve what we've achieved.

[Images move through of various researchers working in labs]

It's really amazing now to see findings from the lab move to the clinic. For me, it's about responsibility and purpose.

[Image changes to show Sherene talking to the camera]

It's about ensuring that the next generation of women don't suffer from breast cancer, as much as this generation.

[Image changes to show a new slide showing the Australian Government Crest, Frank Fenner Prize Life Scientist of the Year medallion animated and turning, and the words 2021 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, and the name, Professor Sherene Loi]

See their acceptance speech

[Image shows a slide showing the Australian Government Crest, Frank Fenner Prize Life Scientist of the Year medallion animated and turning, and the words 2021 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year, and the name, Professor Sherene Loi]

[Music plays and image changes to show a facing view of Sherene talking to the camera and a Prize medallion and text appears: Professor Sherene Loi]

I'm very honoured to have been awarded the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year. I'd like to thank the Prime Minister, and Minister Price for this honour. In accepting this honour I would like to acknowledge all the hard work of my lab at Peter Mac, and thank my collaborators all around the world.

In particular, I’d like to acknowledge Roberto Salgado, who's my pathologist partner in crime, based in Belgium. I'd also like to acknowledge the National Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia for all their support over the years. Without them in this time of great uncertainty with the pandemic and with funding their support has been very reassuring. I'd also like to thank of course my family, and my kids, and my parents, and my in-laws. Without their support my achievements today would not have been possible. So thank you all.

[Image shows Sherene smiling at the camera, and Screen goes to white]