Dr. Samantha Oakes is head of the Cancer Cell Survival group at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, St Vincent's Clinical School, UNSW Sydney. In 2007, Samantha received her PhD from the University of New South Wales and won the Garvan Institute best thesis prize for this work. Since this time, Samantha has published 25 research manuscripts focused on the understanding and treatment of cancer and has been awarded over $3.2 million in competitive grant funding. The focus of her lab is to understand the molecular and mechanistic signals involved in breast cancer tumour cell survival. The mechanisms that contribute to cell survival underlie every stage of tumour progression from the initiating event, tumour growth, localised invasion and metastasis and finally during the acquisition of chemotherapeutic resistance. These mechanisms can arise from the tumour cell itself (intrinsic) or act in concert with the microenvironment (extrinsic).
Recently, Samantha and her team discovered a new dual therapeutic approach, which in preclinical studies prevents the spread of breast cancers through the body and has promise for the treatment of other tumours including lung, prostate and pancreatic cancer. In 2017, she was awarded a Cancer Council NSW project grant to expand on this work for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, to ensure the outcomes of this research are rapidly translated into the clinic. In 2016, Samantha won the Young Garvan award for the 'edgiest idea'. This innovator grant entitled 'Tricking cancer cells into thinking they are sick to make them sensitive to immunotherapy', is focussed on discovering ways to make immunotherapy (which is producing cures in a small number of patients with cancer), work for more patients. Hopefully these projects will ultimately improve the survival of women and men suffering cancer. Samantha is an editorial board member for Scientific Reports, Australian NHMRC and New Zealand HRC grant panel member and convenor of the 2018 Queenstown Research Week Cancer Satellite Meeting.
Samantha is a passionate advocate of medical research in the community and a role model to women dealing with the challenges of balancing family and a scientific career. Samantha also raises awareness about cancer and the importance of research in the community through her extra-curricular activities both as a spokesperson for NBCF and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.