PhD Scholarship Top-up student profile: Sean Ma

The Role of ROR2 in Colorectal Cancer

Award: Sean is a recipient of a three-year PhD Scholarship Top-up

Supervisors: Dr Caroline Ford, Research Fellow, Lowy Cancer Research Centre

Dr Luke Hesson, Molecular and Cellular Oncology Laboratory Team Leader, Lowy Cancer Research Centre, UNSW

Professor Robyn Ward, Clinical Associate Dean and Head, Prince of Wales Clinical School, UNSW

ROR2 is a novel receptor tyrosine kinase of the Wnt signalling pathway – a developmental pathway that has been associated with numerous cancers including colorectal cancer, breast cancer, melanoma and various leukaemias. 85% of all somatic colorectal cancers are caused by APC mutation; a gene in the Wnt signalling pathway.

The aim of this project is to investigate the role of ROR2 in regulating the Wnt signalling pathway and whether it determines particular cancer characteristics through its up-regulation or silencing.


Describe the clinical link to your research

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the word. The earliest stages of CRC can be treated via surgical excision and chemotherapy. However, if left untreated, the disease will eventually develop into a carcinoma and spread to the rest of the body through metastasis. The processes that transform normal epithelial cells to an adenoma have been linked to a number of oncogenes. However, it is still uncertain what triggers the transition of the cancer to become metastatic.

My research into the role of ROR2 and the Wnt signalling pathway in the progression of CRC will allow us to determine the effect of this developmental pathway on the cancer cells. If our hypothesis – that ROR2 is responsible for increased tumourigenesis and metastasis in CRCs – is supported through my research findings, ROR2 may prove to be an important target for therapies designed to prevent the spread of this cancer.


“The TCRN will be a great benefit to my research throughout my PhD years as it will provide me with countless research resources that would otherwise not be available to me, including the Lowy Biorepository. I will also have the opportunity for collaboration with other translational cancer researchers as well as the opportunity to attend conferences with my peers which will help me to expand my knowledge base about my research topic.”

Sean commenced his first year of PhD studies at the Prince of Wales Clinical School, UNSW in 2012. 


TCRN PhD Scholarship Top-up awardee Sean Ma