Per annum, for three and a half years. Fee relief additional. Amount includes a $2,414 pa ONJCRI top up.

Opening date

Closing date



Who is it for?

Future PhD candidates

Where is it available?


How is it paid?

Fortnightly stipend


The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) is proudly the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine, based at the Austin Hospital. As a graduate researcher with ONJCRI you will have access to a wide range of resources, services and academic programs. You will study with renowned scientists with excellent publication records who are committed to helping you build a successful career in translational cancer research. Our translational research approach means that every day you'll be able to work alongside clinicians, collaborating in the laboratory and at the bedside, to develop breakthrough therapies to help people feel better, sooner.

We have seven research programs and are currently on the search for more brilliant postgraduate scientists to join our research programs.

Currently the ONJCRI is offering three general scholarships and 4 four specific scholarships (see projects below) for outstanding PhD candidates with completion of Honours or Masters in molecular biology, biochemistry or biomedical sciences. The research undertaken aims to better understand the biology of Cancer and how we can provide better clinical care and treatments of those with cancer.

To review our research programs please go to:


Role of PDGF-CC in the Tumour Microenvironment, Professor Andrew Scott and Dr Ingrid Burvenich, Tumor Targeting Research Group

This project aims to elucidate novel mechanisms of action of a novel antibody that targets platelet derived growth factor–C (PDGF-CC), and to determine the cellular pathways within the tumour microenvironment that are impacted by antibody treatment. Through 2D and 3D co-cultures and organoids derived from cancer associated fibroblasts and triple negative breast cancer cell lines (TNBC), we will determine the signalling pathways responsible for converting estrogen receptor α (ERα)-negative TNBC into ERα-positive tumours upon treatment with anti-PDGF-CC antibody (Nature Med, 2018). The temporal course of ERα expression change following antibody treatment will be assessed with 18F-FES positron emission tomography, which will allow optimal design of ERα-targeting combination therapies. A suitable candidate would have used one or more techniques of the following: western blot analysis, CRISPR technology, RNA extraction, animal models, tissue culture (2D, 3D).

“Taming” the tumour microenvironment to improve therapeutic response, Prof Matthias Ernst plus senior Postdoctoral fellow, Cancer and Inflammation Laboratory

Solid malignancies always occur and progress amongst a wide collection of surrounding normal cells, including those of endothelial, fibroblastic and haemopoietic origin. Collectively, the latter are referred to as the normal cells of the tumour microenvironment (TME) which in the context of tumour xenograft models can also be regarded as host-derived cells. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that cancer cells coerce and co-opt cells of the TME to further their own survival and proliferation by promoting processes such as angiogenesis, tissue stiffness and reducing effective anti-tumour immune responses. Thus, the TME is now also recognized as one of the major factors limiting therapeutic responses in patients and therefore spurs efforts to understand the mechanism(s) by which cancer cells corrupt the cells of the TME and in turn the effector functions of the TME that impairs therapeutic responses.

This project focuses on two molecules that we have identified for their pivotal contribution in the TME to enable tumour progression and limit therapeutic responses: A myeloid cell-specific tyrosine kinase called HCK and a soluble mediator, called interleukin-11. The project will aim to better define the molecular roles either of these two molecules play (the actual project will focus on one only) and explore clinically relevant approaches to inhibit their biological activities. The project will include state-of-the-art molecular biology approaches and exploit sophisticated microscopy, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) and preclinical models of solid malignancies.

Novel methods for analysing single-cell genomics data, Professor Wei Shi, Bioinformatics and Cancer Genomics Laboratory

This group is internationally recognised as leaders in developing computational methods for analysing genomics data including next-generation sequencing data. They have successfully developed bioinformatics software tools that have been used worldwide. Prof Shi’s lab is offering a project developing novel methods for analysing single-cell RNA sequencing data. Prospective students with strong computational background, including computer science, bioinformatics and mathematics, are welcome to apply.

Understanding Gamma Delta T Cell Function in the Gastrointestinal Tract, Dr Lisa Mielke, Mucosal Immunity and Cancer Laboratory.

Our research focuses on identifying new immune targets that can be explored to develop novel therapeutics to treat stomach and colon cancers. We use mouse models and patient samples to understand the organ-specific functions of immune cells. We study heterogeneous populations of T cells, known as intraepithelial lymphocytes that are distinct in their frequency and function across different organs of the gastrointestinal tract (GI). Our preliminary studies have shown that one population, known as gamma delta T cells, plays a protective role in colon cancer. In this project we will use single-cell RNA sequencing, flow cytometry and multiplexed fluorescent immunohistochemistry technologies to understand the function of gamma delta T cells in mouse models of cancer and patient samples.

Targeting cell surface receptor signalling in the tumour microenvironment. Assoc/Prof Peter Janes, Receptor Biology Laboratory

Cancer development and spread depends on interactions of tumour cells with surrounding normal cells, which stimulate growth, new blood vessel formation, and evasion of anti-tumour immune responses. We study the role of cell surface proteins, including receptor tyrosine kinases and metalloproteases, which mediate intercellular signalling in tumours and the surrounding microenvironment (TME). To facilitate this we modulate the expression or function of these proteins, either genetically, or using novel monoclonal antibodies, which we develop as new potential therapeutic agents. This project will study genetic and antibody-mediated modulation of Eph cell guidance receptors, which are elevated in tumours and the TME in a range of tumour types. The research will employ cell and animal based tumour models, and involve cutting edge microscopy, flow cytometry, proteomic and single-cell sequencing technologies.

Benefits of the scholarship include:

  • a La Trobe Research Scholarship for three and a half years, with a value of $28,092.00 per annum (and additional top up of $2,414 per annum), to support your living costs (2020 rate)
  • a fee-relief scholarship for up to four years
  • Relocation allowance and publication/thesis allowance
  • opportunities to work with La Trobe’s outstanding researchers, and have access to our suite of professional development programs.
  • Additional ONJCRI benefits – Laptop computer for all students, travel fund for conference attendance

Are you eligible to apply?

To be eligible to apply for this scholarship, applicants must:

  • meet the entrance requirements for the proposed course
  • not be receiving another scholarship greater than 75 per cent of the stipend rate for the same purpose.
In selecting successful applicants, we prioritise applications from candidates who:
  • will be enrolled full-time and undertaking their research at a La Trobe University campus
  • have completed a Masters by Research or other significant body of research, such as an honours research thesis or lead authorship of a peer-reviewed publication, assessed at a La Trobe Masters by research standard of 75 or above

How to apply

If you wish to apply for this scholarship, follow these steps:

  • review details on how to apply for candidature
  • contact the ONJCRI student co-ordinator, with a CV summarising your research experience, transcript of results for previous education and indicating if there is a specific project which you are interested in (see projects above)
  • if you are able to be matched with a project we will invite you to apply. You will need to complete and submit your application by 30 September 2020 (for international applicants) and 31 October 2020 (for domestic applicants) for admission into La Trobe’s PhD program, indicating you wish to be considered for this scholarship on the application.
The University will carefully review your application and consider you for this scholarship. You will be advised of an outcome in December 2020

Who to contact for further information

Kerryn Westcott, School Graduate Research Co-ordinator,