Our People

Sudha Rao

Professor | Group Leader

Gene Regulation & Translational Medicine

+61 7 3362 0341

sudha.rao@qimrberghofer.edu.au

 

CAREER HISTORY

Professor Sudha Rao has extensive experience in transcriptional biology and genomic technologies that spans both pharmaceutical and academic settings. The primary focus of Professor Rao’s research group has been to unravel complex epigenetic-signatures in the immune system, as well as to understand the deregulatory mechanisms operating in cancer settings. She obtained her BSC (Hons.) degree at Keele University, UK and PhD from the University of London, Kings College in 2000. At this time, she joined a team of scientists at Rhone Poulenc/Sanofi Pharma, both in UK and France. During this period, she was part of one of the first groups world-wide to establish the clinical genomics platform for therapeutics in the UK.

Professor Rao has developed close partnerships with global technology companies and established novel liquid biopsy clinical platforms, first of its kind in Asia, for non-invasive tracking of blood samples from cancer patients. She has attracted highly competitive NHMRC, ARC and commercial funding to advance her cancer work. Professor Rao’s work has yielded national and international patents for both novel diagnostics and therapeutics in the emerging arena of immune-oncology and this work has great potential for cancer patients.

 

CURRENT APPOINTMENTS

2019-current: Group Leader, Gene Regulation & Translational Medicine Laboratory, QIMR Berghofer

2019-current: Associate Professor, University of Queensland, Biomedical Sciences

2019-current: Professor, Queensland University of Technology, Faculty of Health

2016-current: Founder/CSO EpiAxis Therapeutics

2010-current: Visiting Fellow John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU

 

CURRENT AREA OF RESEARCH

The primary focus of Professor Rao’s research group has been on epigenetics in the context of cancer diagnostics, therapy and T cell biology. The lab has been focused on epigenetic regulation of T cell transcriptional responses, and they have identified a novel nuclear role for traditional serine-threonine kinases and novel, nuclear roles for epigenetic enzymes & checkpoint inhibitors. The major goals are to develop liquid biopsy based (blood) diagnostic biomarkers that can predict patient response to therapy and track progress of the patient with companion epigenetic based therapeutic drugs. The group are using epigenetic expertise to develop these new biomarkers and therapeutic targets to overcome resistance to therapy, target difficult to treat cancers with novel epigenetic drugs such as brain cancers. They have recently identified novel biomarkers and companion therapeutics for patient responsiveness to immunotherapy in the context of dysfunctional T-cells. The goal is to develop a treatment which is cost effective so care is available for every patient. New tests will allow oncologists to distinguish which patients are likely to respond to therapy, irrespective of the cancer type. Using epigenetics, the team are also developing the power to re-program immune cells to fight the cancer and rewire cancer cells.

 

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

  • embarked on a Phase 1b clinical trial focusing on an epigenetic target in metastatic breast cancer, sponsored by EpiAxis Therapeutics
  • embarked on multiple liquid biopsy based diagnostic studies with oncology departments nation-wide

 

PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS

2020: Invited Editor, Epigenetic Therapy: The State of Play in Highly Aggressive Diseases

2015: CONCERT Member

 

AWARDS RECOGNITION

2017

  • Faces of Science, CSIRO

2016

  • VC Research Excellence award, UC
  • ASMR-ACT Scientist at the pub award

2015

  • Woman to Watch Award 2015 (HerCanberra)

2014

  • Faces of Science, CSIRO

2013

  • Discovery Translation Fund, ANU Connect Ventures

2012

  • Vice Chancellor’s Research Excellence Award for ECR, UC
  • Vice Chancellor’s USS Teaching Excellence Award, UC
  • Pre-development Partner appointed by Professor Grim, Head of Research Development, Agilent Technologies, USA, giving access to pre-development genomics/proteomics for cancer diagnostics; cancer stem cell glycomics project
  • Post-doctoral fellowship award ($350 000, 2012–2015), ANU

 

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND

2000: PhD, University of London, Randall Institute, Kings College, UK

1991: Bachelor of Science Degree (Honours), University of Keele, UK (Subsidiary: International Law & Politics)