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Anne Rahilly
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Cancer expert Dr Mark Shackleton, from the University of Melbourne and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, has been named the 2012 Prime Minister’s Prize for Life Scientist of the Year.

Dr Shackleton, a Senior Fellow in the University’s Department of Pathology and the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, was recognised for his contribution to understanding the evolution of cancer cells.

Like other researchers, he worked on the prevailing view that cancers were organised like normal organs, maintained by cancerous stem cells that drove tumour growth. His research destroyed that view and turned the field of cancer research on its head.

“I am delighted to have won this prestigious award. I pay tribute to my research team and to all cancer patients. Cancer is a disease of enormous complexity. Our latest research is revealing quite starkly that it is a living entity, that can evolve remarkably quickly,” Dr Shackleton said.

“This award will allow me to advance research in this new and exciting area. I am investing in research that has huge implications for the development of new cancer treatments that provide lasting benefit to patients.”

He said as a young boy, all he ever really wanted to be was a doctor—and to cure cancer. But the lack of progress in cancer research and his desire to improve outcomes for patients inspired him to return to basic science.

Dr Shackleton completed PhD studies on breast cancer at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of medical Research (WEHI) and completed post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan on the deadly skin cancer known as melanoma.

In 2010, a Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation (VESKI) Fellowship facilitated his return to Melbourne, to further his work at the University of Melbourne and at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Dr Shackleton is now undertaking work on melanomas that suggests these tumours are intrinsically dynamic, changing their behaviour—sometimes dramatically and quickly—over time.

Professor James McCluskey, University of Melbourne Deputy Vice Chancellor Research, congratulated Dr Shackleton. “This is a wonderful achievement which reflects years of hard work that has a real and immediate impact on the quest to understand and control cancer related diseases. The accolade is a welcome acknowledgement of the depth of research across the university and our affiliates.”