Research Staff

Research Staff

Professor George Kannourakis MB, BS, B(Med)Sc, PhD, FRACP - Honorary Research Director, Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute
Professor George Kannourakis

George oversees all research and administration at the Institute. He has a wealth of experience in cancer cell biology, having obtained his PhD from The University of Melbourne for his research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. George is Adjunct Professor of Cancer Biology at University of Ballarat and has been a practising oncologist and clinician haematologist in the Ballarat community for many years. George has worked at the Dana Faber Cancer Institute in Boston and as a Research Fellow at Harvard University, and he headed the Cancer Research Unit at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne.

Professor Stuart Berzins (BSc(Hons) PhD GCUT) -

Stuart has previously conducted his research at Monash University, the Harvard Medical School and University of Melbourne and now leads a research group at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute where he investigates human immune responses to cancer. He collaborates with national and international research groups and is working with Prof George Kannourakis and other researchers at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute and Federation University to establish a regional hub of biomedical research. His research group studies specialised cells and molecules that regulate immune responses against cancer. Hi research goals are to determine if there are defects in immune regulation that contribute to different forms of cancer, and to identify immune cells and molecules that could become targets for new immune-based therapies.

Professor Nuzhat Ahmed, BSc Hons (DU), MSc (KUL), PhD (ANU) -

Nuzhat  joined the Institute in April 2015 as Ovarian Cancer Principal Research Fellow.  She holds an adjunct professorial  position with the Federation University, Ballarat which strengthens  links between the Institute and the Federation University, Ballarat.  Professor Ahmed is an experienced cell and molecular biologist and brings a wealth of experience to Institute,  particularly in the area of cancer biology.  She has a long standing interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms of ovarian cancer spread.  She did her postdoctoral research training in Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, New Zealand, University of New Castle, Australia, Kanagawa Cancer Centre, Japan and BC Cancer Agency, University of British Columbia in Canada. From 2002-2014 Nuzhat led the Cancer Metastasis Group in Women’s Cancer Research Centre, Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne. Her significant contribution has been in establishing novel interactions of cell adhesion molecules with the signalling pathways in cancer, identifying early-stage biomarkers for ovarian cancer screening and understanding the mechanisms of chemoresistance in ovarian cancer patients. These studies have led to several international patents, competitive international and national grants and publications (>65) in reputable cancer journals.  Nuzhat has a long standing interest in understanding the immune cell irregularities in ovarian cancer patients. 

Dr Monirul Islam (BSc(Hons) MSc PhD)​ - Laboratory Manager

Dr.Monirul Islam is the Laboratory Manager at FECRI and joined the Institute in July 2003. He has been working in medical research for the past 17 years. Monirul obtained his Bachelor (Hons) and Master degrees in Biochemistry from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and his Ph.D in Molecular Biology from the medical faculty of Nagoya University in Japan. Before joining the institute, Monirul was working as research associate at the Southern Methodist University, Texas, USA. Monirul also worked as a scientific officer at the Centre for Molecular Biology and Medicine, Melbourne, Australia and as a Science and Technology Agency (STA) fellow at the National Food Research Institute, Tsukuba, Japan. Monirul brings wealth of knowledge and expertise in the field of molecular biology and protein chemistry.

Dr Jenny West (BSc (Hons) PhD) -

Jenny is a Senior Research Fellow with cell biology and biochemistry experience who joined the staff in October 2001. She is part of the team working on the histiocytic diseases .  Her team uses flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry to examine the different types of cells and cellular interactions found within histiocytic lesions, with the aim of elucidating their involvement in the disease process.

Dr Sharon Olsen (BSc (Hons) PhD) -

Sharon joined the Institute in May 2003 as part of the team working on Histiocytic Diseases and is skilled in both molecular biology and cell biology. She has worked in the field of cancer research for her entire career. Sharon graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree (Honours) and a PhD from The University of Melbourne. While at St. Vincent's Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, her PhD studied parathyroid hormone-related protein and the biology of cancer. She then travelled to Canada to work on chemotherapy resistance by multidrug resistance protein at the Cancer Research Laboratories, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, prior to her return to Australia.

Brendan Toohey BSc -

Brendan joined the laboratory in August 2007. He is currently working on screening cancer biopsies for sensitivity to cytotoxic drugs in collaboration with Professor Ian Cree from the Translational Oncology Research Centre, University of Portsmouth, UK. Brendan is also responsible for the FECRI Tissue Bank as well as working with Dr Berzins and his team.

Jenée Mitchell (BAppSc(Hons)) - PhD Student

Following graduation from the University of Ballarat (now Federation University Australia) with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Hons), Jenée joined the laboratory in May 2012 as part of the team working on histiocytic diseases. Jenee has experience in both molecular biology and cell biology, and is now undertaking a PhD through Federation University Australia and the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute looking into the role of T cells in the immune regulation of Langerhans cell histiocytosis.

Dr Morgan Wallace (BSc(Hons) PhD) - Visiting Research Fellow

Morgan Wallace is a lecturer in Biomedical science at Federation University and an Honoarary Research Fellow at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute.  Morgan has worked as a research scientist at several leading research institutes including the University of Massachussetts (USA) the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and St Vincent’s Institute in Melbourne.  She is currently working with researchers at the Institute to investigate the role of the immune system in fighting haematological cancers including Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia and Multiple Myeloma.

Farah Ahmady BBiomedSc(Hons) - PhD Canidate

Farah completed her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science at Federation University Australia, followed by completing her Honours with a first class grade last year which allocated her a FedUni Postgraduate Research Scholarship (FPRS). She has commenced her PhD this year at Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute and is working on the role of unconventional T cells; MAIT cells, iNKT cells and cells in ovarian cancer and ovarian cancer stem cells.She is working under the primary supervision of Professor Nuzhat Ahmed, and the co-supervision of A/Professor Mark Myers and A/Professor Stuart Berzins.

Tamsin Wesley B AppSc (Med Sc), M AppSc (Med Sc) - PhD Candidate

Tamsin joined FECRI in March this year as a PhD student with the ovarian cancer research team headed by Prof Nuzhat Ahmed.Her project will be looking at a particular group of proteins, called plakins, that are involved in cell structure and connecting cells to each other. Changes to these proteins have been detected in pancreatic and skin cancers and we would like to discover how they change in ovarian cancers. Particularly exciting is that we think they are involved in the spread of ovarian cancer throughout the body - and understanding how they work may lead to better treatment outcomes.

Research Students

Yosuke Minoda (BBiomedSc(Hons)) - PhD Student

Yosuke is undertaking a PhD at the Institute examining immune defects in patients with different forms of cancer. He has been involved in most of the exciting preliminary data generated from the Immunology group at the Institute and has already presented his data at several national and international forums. Yosuke is an expert in flow cytometry (a sophisticated methods of immune cell analysis) and was awarded a scholarship to attend a prestigious advanced training course in this field. He also holds a prestigious Collaborative Research Network (CRN) scholarship awarded by Federation University. Yosuke hopes to complete his PhD in 2015 and we expect his work will result in several scientific publications.

Tobias Meredith (BBiomedSc(Hons)) - PhD Student

Tobias completed his undergraduate studies in biomedicine at Federation University and his very high grades saw him invited to undertake an Honours project in 2014. Tobias is studying under the supervision of A/Prof Stuart Berzins and his project tis examining how regulatory immune cells affect the behaviour of other immune cells in the body. Tobias is already making great strides and has recently completed a Masterclass in immunology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research as he seeks to establish himself as an independent scientist in the field of immunology research.

Marice Alcantara (BBiomedSc(Hons)) - PhD Student

Marice has been working at the Institute for the past year and is undertaking her PhD under the supervision of A/Prof Stuart Berzins. Marice is a highly credentialed student and already holds an Honours degree in Science. On the basis of her undergraduate studies she was awarded a Collaborative Research Network (CRN) scholarship and has recently commenced studying immune cell involvement in Chronic Lymphoid Leukemia. This disease is becoming a focus of the Institute and Marice’s project will examine the complex interplay between immune cells and CLL that regulates the rate of disease progression in patients

Jason Kelly (BAppSc BioMedSci (Hons)) - PhD Student

A recent addition to the Institute, Jason is undertaking a PhD examining novel immune cells in bowel and lung cancers. He has spent the past 20 years working in diagnostic pathologies in Ballarat and hopes to utilize his pathology experience in identifying exactly where these novel cells are and what they are doing in relation to the tumour.

Sam Stevens (BAppSc (Exercise and Sports Science MBBS (Hons)) - Candidate

"Sam is a medical student from Notre Dame University who joins the team to undertake honours research in addition to his clinical training at St. John of God Hospital. Co-supervised by Prof Kannourakis and A/Prof Berzins, Sam is investigating the functional profiles of immune regulatory cells under different conditions. With an interest in Haematology and Immunology, Sam hopes to take his experiences at the Institute into his clinical practice in 2016 when he will start work as a junior doctor."

Tamekha Develyn (BBiomedSc(Hons)) - Candidate

Tamekha Develyn completed a bachelor of biomedical science at Federation University in 2014. She was selected based on high grades to undertake an Honours project at Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute in 2015. Tamekha is studying under the supervision of Morgan Wallace and co-supervised by A/Prof Stuart Berzins. Her project will be to examine the effect that regulatory immune cell populations have on the progression of multiple myeloma – a haematological disease effecting approximately 86,000 people annually.