PhD Scholarship Top-up student profile: Emma Ramsay


Investigation of a tumour enzyme as a predictor of patient response to an Australian anti-cancer drug

Award:  Emma is a recipient of a final-year PhD Scholarship Top-up (2012)

Supervisors: Professor Philip Hogg, Director, Lowy Cancer Research Centre;

Dr Pierre Dilda, Senior Research Fellow, Adult Cancer Program, UNSW

Emma’s research focuses on validating the use of a tumour enzyme to predict patient response to the mitochondrial toxin and angiogenesis inhibitor, GSAO (4-(N-(S-glutathionylacetyl)amino)phenylarsinous acid).

GSAO is presently undergoing a Phase I/IIa clinical trial in patients with solid tumours refractory to standard therapy. It inhibits the growth of tumours by inhibiting proliferating endothelial cells. The mechanism of action of GSAO requires its activation by a cell surface enzyme – gamma-glutamyl transferase – before it can enter the cell. This enzyme is often over-expressed in tumours. Emma is working to verify the use of this enzyme to predict the response of cells and tumours to the drug using both cellular and animal models.


What is the translational application of your project?

Given gamma-glutamyl transferase’s essential nature to the activity of the compound, tumour expression levels of the enzyme may predict patient response. This could provide an enormous benefit to therapeutic  decision making, both for the individual patient and the health care system, and may help guide future clinical trials. Should this work prove successful, further gamma-glutamyl prodrugs can be developed, creating a class of drugs that are targeted to the site of the tumour.


“The TCRN will help by exposing me to a wider range of cancer research, providing a greater understanding of cancer, and also a greater understanding and appreciation of the different approaches to cancer research  The link TCRN has with hospitals will help me develop a translational perspective that can be applied to my research now and in the future.”

Emma completed her PhD studies at the Prince of Wales Clinical School, UNSW in 2014. She is the recipient of the Cancer Institute NSW 2012 Pfizer Studentship award.



 TCRN PhD Scholarship Top-up awardee Emma Ramsay