Amy Dwyer

Dr Amy Dwyer

Postdoctoral Research Fellow (A)

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.


Dr Amy R. Dwyer is a dynamic early career researcher with a simple mission: make a transformative impact on clinical management of estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer by developing innovative new treatment strategies with curative potential and less toxic side effects compared to current standard-of-care.

After completing a highly productive PhD at the University of Western Australia, Amy relocated to the Masonic Cancer Center, a National Institute of Health-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Minnesota USA for a competitive Postdoctoral training position. Here she led a program of research dedicated to understanding sex hormone receptor action in breast cancer, developing expertise in bioinformatics and discovery of new targets using contemporary pre-clinical models. Amy obtained funding from the National Cancer Institute for a research project she conceptualised with the guidance of her mentors, Prof Carol Lange and Dr Douglas Yee.

Amy was recruited back to Australia in December 2019 to the Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratories (DRMCRL) under the world-class mentorship of A/Prof Theresa Hickey (Head of Breast Cancer) and Prof Wayne Tilley (Director). Here, she is dedicated to understanding the anti-cancer power of activating sex hormone receptors (androgen, AR; progesterone, PR) co-expressed with ER in tumours to reprogram ER signalling and thwart tumour growth. Amy has expertise in techniques for whole genome interrogation of transcription factor chromatin binding (ChIPseq) and novel proteomic techniques to interrogate protein interactions (qPLEX-RIME) and is committed to translational research by developing and employing model systems that use patient-derived material to maximize clinical relevance (PDX, MIND xenografts).

In recognition of her emerging leadership in the field, Amy was awarded a National Breast Cancer Foundation Investigator Initiated Research Scheme Fellowship (2022-2026; $788,944) to investigate ER reprogramming as a less toxic, potentially curative treatment strategy for ER+ breast cancer, focussing initially on treatment-resistant forms that cause death.

The Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratories (DRMCRL) have an international reputation for research into sex hormone action in hormone-dependent cancers, with a particular emphasis on breast and prostate cancers. 

This world-class cancer research centre brings together expertise spanning more than 30 years in basic and translational prostate and breast cancer research. It is the leading centre in Australia with a multidisciplinary team of scientists, clinicians and patient advocates dedicated to understanding how sex hormones and their receptors control tumour behaviour in both disease contexts. The information is used to understand mechanisms of resistance to existing hormonal therapies for breast and prostate cancer and in developing new strategies for disease treatment and management. Research programs span discovery, drug development and clinical translation.

A major research focus at the DRMCRL is the development of novel androgen receptor (AR) and progesterone receptor (PR) targeted therapies for breast and prostate cancer. In prostate cancer, this involves the generation of drugs to inhibit aberrant forms of the AR that drive the disease and are unresponsive to conventional androgen deprivation therapies. In the case of breast cancer, our research has led to new strategies to activate the AR or PR to inhibit growth of tumours that are driven by the estrogen receptor (ER), as well as interrogation of Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs), which have the ability to reprogram oncogenic AR activation in ER negative breast cancer.

Our laboratory has pioneered integration of genomic technologies with unique preclinical models of human breast and prostate cancers, especially patient-derived explant cultures and xenograft models, to better understand disease mechanisms and facilitate translation of breast and prostate cancer research into the clinic.

We publish in high impact journals such as Nature, Nature Genetics, Nature Reviews Cancer, Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research and Oncogene. Our research is well supported by funding from nationally and internationally competitive grants. The DRMCRL offers students a wide array of projects that span cutting-edge biomedical research using contemporary pre-clinical models, genome-wide technologies and access to large proteomic/genomic databases. 

We are currently actively seeking students interested in bioinformatics to interrogate these databases, with opportunities of cross faculty supervision in fields such as mathematics and machine learning.

 

Key Research Projects Available for DRMCRL

Project 1 - Transforming endocrine therapy for breast and prostate cancer

Description -  Breast and prostate cancers are diseases driven by abnormal sex hormone receptor activity mediated by the estrogen receptor (ER) in breast and the androgen receptor (AR) in prostate cancers. Surgery and radiation therapy for these diseases work well when the tumour is confined within the organ of origin. However, for cancers that have spread out of the breast or prostate, either locally or to other parts of the body, the major treatment strategy is to completely abolish the activity of the offending sex hormone receptor. This treatment strategy is called hormone deprivation therapy and has been employed for the past century. Overwhelming evidence indicates that hormone deprivation therapy has run its course in providing a survival advantage to people with breast or prostate cancer. 

Our hypothesis is that reprogramming estrogen or androgen receptors (ER and AR) away from oncogenic activity toward more benign activity will transform endocrine therapy for breast and prostate cancer. In this project we aim to discover optimal strategies to reprogram ER or AR activity in breast and prostate cancer by investigating three complementary approaches to reprogramming ER/AR: 1) Activate other nuclear receptors that directly inhibit ER/AR signalling; 2) Utilize selective ER/AR ligands; and 3) Enhance ER/AR reprogramming with epigenetic drugs. We will then validate optimal reprogramming strategies in patient-derived xenograft “clinical trials” and clinical samples.

Available for: Honours and HDR

Start Date: Semester 1 and 2 2022 

 

Project 2 - Selective activation of androgen receptor to treat estrogen receptor positive breast cancer

Description - Androgens, acting via the androgen receptor (AR), a protein related to the estrogen receptor (ER), are natural inhibitors of estrogen-stimulated breast cancer growth. Although androgens are commonly considered to be male hormones, females produce androgens throughout their life. AR typically is present in the same cells as ER, resulting in estrogen and androgen hormones exerting opposing forces on the growth of ER-positive breast cancers, with estrogen having growth promoting and androgens protective effects.

The goals of this project are: 1) Investigate how stimulation of the androgen receptor (AR) by a synthetic androgen which has been shown to be well tolerated by women, inhibits the growth of estrogen-sensitive breast tumours; and 2)  Develop and evaluate proteins identified as being potential biomarkers of response to androgenic therapies.

Available for: Honours and HDR

Start Date: Semester 1 and 2 2022

 

Project 3 -  The clinical significance of sex hormone crosstalk in estrogen receptor positive breast cancer

Description - Breast cancer is mainly a disease in which the sex hormone estrogen stimulates uncontrolled growth via the estrogen receptor (ER). We have recently discovered that other sex hormones, including progesterone and androgen, can redirect the actions of estrogen in breast cancers to halt growth or make a tumour disappear. This project will examine the complex interaction between all three sex hormones to develop new, more effective strategies for treating breast cancer.

In this project, we will investigate the three-way interplay between ER, PR (progesterone receptor) and AR (androgen receptor) in contemporary models of breast cancer including patient derived xenografts and ex-vivo cultured primary tumour tissues. The ultimate goal is to determine clinical scenarios in which PR, AR or both could be optimally therapeutically targeted to treat ER+ breast cancer, particularly disease resistant to current ER targeting drugs.

Available for: Honours and HDR

Start Date: Semester 1 and 2 2022

 

Project 4 - Pushing AR toward better outcomes in breast and prostate cancers 

Description - This project will establish the efficacy of drugs called SARMs (selective androgen receptor modulators) for re-activating the normal, non-oncogenic function of the AR (androgen receptor) in human-derived pre-clinical models and clinical samples of breast and prostate cancers. Currently available SARMs (eg Enobosarm) have excellent safety profiles, and are poised for rapid implementation into clinical trials. Through our collaborations with clinicians that currently run breast cancer and prostate cancer clinical trials, we have access to breast cancer and prostate cancer samples, and also an avenue to prepare them to quickly implement novel treatment strategies that arise from this project. 

The aims of this project are: 1) Identify SARMs that reprogram AR from oncogenic to benign genomic loci in breast cancers and prostate cancers; 2) Identify proteins that mediate AR reprogramming in breast and prostate cancers; 3) Pre-clinically test selected SARMs with therapeutic potential; and 4) Determine the clinical scope for SARMs and candidate biomarkers derived during the project.  

Available for: Honours and HDR

Start Date: Semester 1 and 2 2022

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2022 - ongoing National Breast Cancer Foundation Fellow University of Adelaide
    2019 - 2022 Postdoctoral Research Fellow University of Adelaide
    2016 - 2019 Postdoctoral Research Associate University of Minnesota
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2012 - 2016 University of Western Australia Australia PhD
    2008 - 2012 University of Western Australia Australia BSc (Hons)
  • Postgraduate Training

    Date Title Institution Country
    2019 - 2019 Big Data Training for Translational Omics Research Purdue University United States
    2018 - 2018 Introduction to Computing in Biology University of Minnesota United States
  • Research Interests

Chief Investigator: National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) Investigator Initiated Research Scheme Reprogramming the estrogen receptor to eradicate endocrine-resistant breast cancer (2022-2026; $788,944)

Chief Investigator: CTSI Translational Research Development Program Targeting the Progesterone Receptor in an ex vivo model using primary mammary epithelial cells (2018-2020; $50,000)

PHAR2210 Ethical Conduct Tutorials
Department of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia
2014 - 2016

PHAR3311 & 3321 Pharmacology Methods
Department of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia
2012 - 2016

  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2022 Co-Supervisor An Innovative Treatment Strategy for Hormone-Dependent Cancers Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Maliha Wajahat .
    2021 Co-Supervisor Exploring the Role of Steroid Receptors in ER+ Breast Cancer Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Alex Adrian Pace
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2020 - 2021 Co-Supervisor Role of the GATA3 Transcription Factor on AR Signalling in Breast Cancer Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mrs Leila Hosseinzadeh
  • Mentoring

    Date Topic Location Name
    2017 - ongoing MD/PhD Student University of Minnesota Carlos Perez Kerkvliet
    2014 - 2014 Honours Student University of Western Australia Eloise Greenland
  • Committee Memberships

    Date Role Committee Institution Country
    2021 - ongoing Board Member Mother's Day Classic SA Mother's Day Classic Australia
    2018 - ongoing Member Steering Committee Great Lakes Nuclear Receptor Conference 2018 University of Minnesota United States
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2019 - ongoing Member Australian Society for Medical Research Australia
    2016 - ongoing Member American Association of Cancer Research United States
    2016 - ongoing Member Endocrine Society United States
    2016 - ongoing Member Graduate Women in Science United States
    2013 - 2016 Member Australian Society of Cell and Developmental Biology Australia
  • Community Engagement

    Date Title Engagement Type Institution Country
    2022 - ongoing Invited Speaker Public Community Engagement The Professionals Real Estate NBCF Fundraising Event Australia
    2021 - ongoing Invited Speaker Public Community Engagement The Hospital Research Foundation Longest Table Event Australia
  • Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow (A)
  • Phone: 83132946
  • Email: amy.dwyer@adelaide.edu.au
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences, floor 8
  • Org Unit: Medical Specialties

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