Bachelor of Biotechnology (Hons), Flinders University, South Australia
PhD, Paediatric Oncology, Children's Cancer Institute, New South Wales
Dr Byrne has been passionate about cancer research since she was a child, after watching the devastating impact childhood cancer had on close friends and families. This passion led to her move to Sydney to research childhood cancers with Prof Maria Kavallaris at the Children’s Cancer Institute. Dr Byrne was awarded her PhD in 2012 for her research that discovered how a cytoskeletal protein promotes metastasis in neuroblastoma (an aggressive childhood cancer) (Byrne et al. 2014, Oncogene). Dr Byrne then trained as a postdoc at the University of Virginia (USA) from 2012-2014 where she studied cancer cell metabolism and the pathophysiology of obesity-related cancers (Byrne et al. 2014, Cancer Research). She returned to Australia in 2014 to the School of Biotechnology & Biomolecular Sciences (UNSW), and now leads an exceptional team of students (PhD, honours, and undergraduates) and a research assistant, and has established strong national and international collaborations with other leading researchers, gynaecological oncologists, gastroenterologists, pathologists, and medicinal chemists.
She has 3 major research interests:
Research Project 1: Developing Novel Drugs for Cancer
Dr Byrne performed a drug screen that identified a small molecule that has better cancer cell-specific toxicity than many chemotherapy agents. This screen and the proposed mechanism of action of this molecule are described in her recent publication (Byrne et al. 2020, Redox Biology). This research led to multiple speaker invitations at conferences and drug development workshops, and helped her attract a TCRN Conference Grant, and 2 highly competitive post-doctoral fellowships from the Hope Funds for Cancer Research (see her video interview here) and the Cancer Institute NSW. These fellowships fund her ongoing work with this project in collaboration with medicinal chemist Dr Naresh Kumar (Chemistry, UNSW) to develop new and improved anti-cancer molecules. Through this collaboration, she has co-supervised 3 honours students and a masters (MPhil) student. This research was also fundamental in helping her attract a MTPConnect REDI Fellowship, which is one of only 10 awarded nationally in 2021 (see more info here). Dr Byrne is also working with Continuum Biosciences/Life Biosciences to investigate the therapeutic potential of mitochondrial uncouplers in metabolic diseases.
Research Project 2: Identifying New Drug Targets for Cancer
Dr Byrne’s research has identified a new drug target for cancer, the glucose transporter GLUT6 (Byrne et al. 2014, Cancer Research). This was the first study to show that GLUT6 plays an important role in cancer cells. Dr Byrne then developed and phenotyped the first GLUT6 knockout mouse and showed that loss of GLUT6 is not detrimental to mice (Byrne et al. 2018, Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab). This publication was highlighted in the F1000Prime/Faculty Opinions. This research suggests that GLUT6 may be a good target for cancer therapy because loss of this protein may not affect healthy tissues. Recently, her lab showed that GLUT6 expression is driven by an inflammatory signaling pathway (NF-κB) in endometrial cancer cells (Caruana & Byrne 2020, Cellular Signalling). Importantly, this research provides clues as to why GLUT6 may be upregulated in this malignancy and how we might target GLUT6 in cancer cells by blocking inflammatory pathways.
Research Project 3: Unravelling the links between diet, obesity, and cancer
Cancers of the liver and uterus (endometrium) are strongly linked to poor diet and obesity, and the incidence of these cancers is on the rise in Australia and other developed countries.
Obesity often causes disruptions to glucose homeostasis. Dr Byrne’s research has shown that endometrial tumours rely on glucose metabolism (glycolysis) to survive (Byrne et al. 2014, Cancer Research). This study and that of others were the focus of a recent review she conceptualised and co-authored (Byrne et al. 2020, Cancers). Dr Byrne and her team are now conducting multi-omic studies on patient samples from women with and without endometrial cancer. This includes a new area of research investigating the links between obesity, uterine microbiota, and endometrial cancer, which attracted funding from the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), the Translational Cancer Research Network (TCRN), and UNSW (Next-Generation Sequencing Grant). Dr Byrne recently shared the results of this exciting work at the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) Pure Science Symposium. Importantly, this is the first study to measure cancer-specific and obesity-specific endometrial microbiota signatures in human patients, which could pave the way for new preventative and therapeutic strategies for this cancer.
Dr Byrne uses a carcinogen-induced mouse model of liver tumorigenesis to study how different diets influence the development of liver cancer. She and her colleagues have shown that; 1) feeding mice ketogenic diet does not alter the growth of established liver tumours (Byrne et al. 2018, Cancers), 2) high levels of dietary sugar, but not fat, promotes liver tumour development, and 3) loss of lipid synthesis enzymes in the livers of mice increases liver tumorigenesis (which challenges the dogma in the field that lipid synthesis is critical for the growth of these tumours). She is currently investigating the links between dietary fructose and liver tumorigenesis in this model.
Contribution to Profession
Dr Byrne reviews fellowship applications (Hope Funds for Cancer Research), NHMRC grants, HDR student theses, and manuscripts for AJP Endocrinology & Metabolism, Scientific Reports, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Endocrine-Related Cancer, Journal of Pathology, Biomed Research International, Cellular Signalling, Cells, Cancers, etc. She also serves on the Honours Committee for BABS and helps organise and chair sessions at national conferences. She is also a member of the Sustainability Committee for BABS.
Dr Byrne enjoys engaging with students through lectures, one-on-one supervision in her lab, the Talented Students Program (BABS), and at Careers Night run by BABSOC. She lectures in BABS3151 (topic: Cancer Genetics), BIOC3271/3671 (topic: Molecular Approaches to Cancer Cell Biology), BIOC3261 (topic: Cancer Metabolism), and co-convenes BABS2011 (Current Trends in Biotechnology). She currently supervises PhD, honours, and undergraduate students (SCIF2041/3041, BABS3301, BIOC3671) in BABS, and co-supervises a MPhil student in Chemistry. She also regularly co-supervises and mentors Independent Learning Project (ILP), honours, and PhD students in the School of Medicine.
Dr Byrne has research projects suited to honours, MPhil and PhD students in the 3 main areas of her research (listed above).
Social Engagement & Equity
Member of the Executive Committee for the Women in Research Network (WiRN), Faculty of Science representative (2021-2023). Dr Byrne is passionate about wanting to ensure UNSW is a workplace where females (and female identifying people) are treated fairly and have equal opportunities. She aims to promote this network to females that are new to UNSW, particularly ECRs and EMCRs, who might not feel that they have proper support and know what opportunities exist for them as they progress in their career.
Member of the Translational Cancer Research Network (TCRN). Dr Byrne recognizes the importance of communicating her cancer research with the wider community. She has developed strong relationships with Mr Jeff Cuff and Mr Phil Mendoza-Jones who are highly experienced members of the Consumer Advisory Panel (CAP) of the TCRN. Jeff’s wife sadly lost her life to colon cancer in 2013 while Phil is a survivor of the same malignancy, although he suffers from chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy. In addition to his role as a research advocate, Jeff has also been an active member of Dr Byrne’s laboratory because he has a keen interest in scientific research (see Jeff's profile here). Jeff’s contributions led to co-authorship in Dr Byrne’s publication (Byrne et al, 2020 Redox Biology) and he continues to play an important role in guiding her research and has helped her establish new collaborations with cancer researchers at WEHI.
Paper of the Month for publication in Redox Biology, School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, UNSW (2019)
Best oral presentation at AussieMit conference, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, Perth, WA (2014)
Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation Travel Grant, AussieMit conference, Perth, WA (2014)
Paper of the Month for publication in Cancer Research, School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, UNSW, Australia (2014)
Sydney Catalyst Prize for best cancer-related poster, Annual Garvan Signalling Symposium, Sydney, Australia (2014)
Jefferson Cup awarded for oral presentation at the UVA Postdoctoral Research Day, University of Virginia (USA) (2014)
Poster prize at the Inaugural UVA Postdoctoral Research Day, University of Virginia (USA) (2013)
University of Sydney Medal for Best Overall Presentation, ASMR Medical Research Week NSW Scientific Meeting (2011)
MTPConnect Researcher Exchange & Development within Industry (REDI) Fellowship (2021)
Cancer Institute NSW Early Career Fellowship (2018-2021)
UNSW Career Advancement Fund (2019)
Translational Cancer Research Network (TCRN) grant (2018)
Next Generation Sequencing Grant, UNSW (2018)
Conference and Professional Development Grant, TCRN (2017)
Early Career Researcher Grant, Faculty of Science, UNSW (2016)
Hope Funds for Cancer Research Postdoctoral Fellowship (2014-2017) (USA), Malcolm AS Moore Honorary Fellow
Anthony Rothe Memorial PhD Scholarship (2008-2011)
Louiza Zervos Memorial Scholarship in Paediatrics (2010)