Member Spotlight: Associate Professor Jeanne Tie

Associate Professor Jeanne Tie is a medical oncology staff specialist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Western Hospital, and a Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. After completing her specialty training at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, she undertook a laboratory-based postgraduate research study at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research focusing on understanding prognostic and predictive molecular biomarkers in colorectal cancer. Since then, her research has centred on the clinical applications of circulating tumour DNA.  Her research work was recognised by several prestigious awards (ASCO Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Award and the Bradley Stuart Beller Merit Award, and AACR Team Science Award).

Associate Professor Tie is a member of the AGITG Scientific Advisory Committee, the Lower GI Working Party and the 2020 ASM Organising Committee – Medical Oncology Sub-Committee. She is also Co-Chair of the DYNAMIC-III, DYNAMIC-Rectal and DYNAMIC-Pancreas trials.

How did you first get involved with the AGITG?

I have always been interested in research and clinical trials. During my advanced training in New Zealand, I attended my first AGITG Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM). I think it was in Adelaide at that time. I was really impressed with the diversity of the program particularly the New Concepts Symposium and the trials in progress sessions. It’s quite different to a lot of other conferences I have been to where they are predominantly an education event, rather than exploring and critiquing new concepts and ideas.

The year after that, I came to Melbourne to take up a clinical trial fellowship position at the Royal Melbourne Hospital followed by my MD postgraduate research at the Ludwig Institute, with an interest in colorectal cancer. Since then, I became an AGITG member and attended the ASM pretty much every year. But the real involvement in terms of contribution came from the circulating tumour DNA trials that WEHI’s been conducting in collaboration with AGITG being the sponsor.

Around the same time, I also joined the Lower GI Working Party and was very honoured to be nominated for the Scientific Advisory Committee. As a junior member, you don’t necessarily always know how things run within the organisation or how to develop a new trial idea. Being involved in the Working Party and the SAC has given me the opportunity to gain some insight into how the trials group actually operates and also to learn from senior members and key opinion leaders. That’s been really useful experience. I am also the AGITG representative for the Genomic Cancer Clinical Trials Initiative (GCCTI).

You have been involved with a number of AGITG trials, and are the Study co-Chair of the DYNAMIC-Rectal and DYNAMIC-III trials. Are there any highlights from your time working with the AGITG?

Definitely, one highlight is working to define the research strategy for the group, filling in the clinical and research gaps. The other highlight has been that through AGITG we now have potential international collaboration with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group who are interested in participating in the DYNAMIC-III trial. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in a clinical trial beyond the national level and it’s certainly been a great learning experience for me. Very excited to get this international collaboration on the road.

Are there any areas of GI cancer research that you believe hold the most promise for the future?

Obviously I’m a bit biased because I do a lot of circulating tumour DNA work and I think that holds a lot of promise, from early stage disease through to metastatic disease. It is really a universal tool that can monitor residual disease, tumour burden, treatment response and resistance, and genotyping. It has a lot of applications and is a very versatile test. Immunotherapy is beginning to look promising both in upper and lower GI fields. Also genomically driven trials are starting to look very interesting, specifically HER2 targeted therapy in both colorectal and gastro-oesophageal cancer.

We also must not forget about the potential benefit of other modalities of treatment such as surgery and radiotherapy.  I think we should design more clinical trials to integrate other modalities of treatment with systemic treatment.

What are your hopes for the AGITG over the next few years?

Having more investigator-driven trials involving novel therapy with translational sub-study, and also to have more biomarker stratified or guided trials. Engagement with other international trials groups to ensure that our patients have the opportunity to participate in large phase III practice changing trials.

The other aspect which I think is important is mentoring the junior faculty to become investigators and getting them to be more involved in AGITG activities.

How would you encourage other AGITG members to get actively involved?

I would encourage members especially the junior members to submit abstracts for presentations. The Best of the Best Posters presentations are often a good opportunity for registrars, fellows and junior oncologists to practice their presentation skills. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from junior members about the AGITG ASM and they think the format is very diverse and inclusive.

You have contributed to the AGITG’s work as a member of the Lower GI Working Party. Why did you decide to take on this role?

I think the only way to affect real change in direction is to get involved in these committees. You get to review applications and concepts and provide some intellectual input into study designs. For myself, it is helpful to be at the forefront of GI trials, learning about what trials are being proposed, both internationally and nationally.

What do you do for fun?

I used to play tennis, I love listening to music and I play a bit of piano. I enjoy shopping and travelling when I have time.

What book are you reading at the moment?

‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’, about the first immortal cell line, called HeLa cell, that was made at John Hopkins, and explore some of the bioethical issues of medical science. I thought it was quite fitting with my role as a researcher involved with the Hopkins group. It was given to me by one of my project managers and I still haven’t had time to finish it.

Who have been your mentors or inspired you?

I’ve had several mentors throughout my career. When I was in the lab working on the BRAFV600E  colorectal project, Dr Jayesh Desai was an important mentor and got me interested in drug development and biomarker research. He is someone I can always go to if I need any advice on early phase drug development.

Prof Peter Gibbs who is my lab head has inspired me to pursue colorectal cancer research and has supported me throughout my research career. Peter has a very strong work ethic which I really admire. The other person that I have the utmost admiration for is my collaborator Bert Vogelstein at John Hopkins. In spite of his success and busy schedule, he’s always been very generous with his time and never hesitates to answer any questions that I might have.