HCRA Website
March 2017
Researcher Profile: Dr Heather Lee

Dr Heather Lee completed her PhD at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research where she investigated hormonal control of mammary gland development and breast cancer. Her research focused on the transcription factor, Elf5, which plays key roles in breast development during pregnancy and acquisition of anti-oestrogen resistance in breast cancer. After discovering lineage-specific DNA methylation of the Elf5 promoter in the mammary epithelium, Heather decided to undertake post-doctoral research in the field of epigenetics.

In 2012, Heather relocated to Cambridge, UK, where she joined the laboratory of Professor Wolf Reik. Using mouse embryonic stem cells as an experimental model, Heather revealed unprecedented dynamic heterogeneity in DNA methylation. Heather also developed ground-breaking single-cell sequencing technologies for the parallel analysis of genome-wide DNA methylation and gene expression in the same single cell. This achievement has established Heather as a pioneer and world-leader in the field of single-cell epigenomics.

Heather joined the University of Newcastle in February 2017, and is establishing a research group at the Hunter Medical Research Institute. Her goal is to make meaningful contributions to cancer research by revealing intra-tumoural epigenetic heterogeneity.

Research interests and directions

Heather is fascinated by the enormous diversity of cell types present in the human body, and by the importance of this cellular heterogeneity in both development and disease. Heather’s diverse interests revolve around this central theme and include:
  • Epigenetic regulation of development
  • Dynamic regulation of DNA methylation and cellular plasticity in cancer
  • Hetergoeneous responses to chemotherapeutics
Initial projects in the lab are investigating the heterogeneous response of cancer cell lines to DNA methyltransferase inhibitors, which are used to treat acute myeloid leukaemia. Using single-cell analysis this work will reveal the hidden complexities of drug action, with the potential of identifying candidate biomarkers or new therapeutic strategies. Future projects will apply single-cell analyses to characterise circulating tumour cells, therapy-resistant cancer cells or cancer-initiating cells in patient samples.


Heather has led several cross-disciplinary research projects and has worked closely with molecular biologists, bioinformaticians, statisticians and theoretical physicists. Since returning to Newcastle, Heather has been seeking opportunities to share her single-cell expertise through collaborations in Australia. This will be facilitated by her appointment as a Visiting Scientist at the Garvan-Weismann Centre for Cellular Genomics in Sydney. Heather is also keen to learn from cancer clinicians and patients, and is excited by the collaborative opportunities presented by the HCRA.

Recent publications
  1. Clark SJ, Lee HJ, Smallwood SA, Kelsey G and Reik W (2016). "Single-cell epigenomics: powerful new methods for understanding gene regulation and cell identity." Genome Biology 17: 72.
  2. Angermueller C, Clark SJ, Lee HJ, Macaulay IC, Teng MJ, Hu TX, Krueger F, Smallwood SA, Ponting CP, Voet T, Kelsey G, Stegle O and Reik W (2016). "Parallel single-cell sequencing links transcriptional and epigenetic heterogeneity." Nature Methods 13(3): 229-232.
  3. Smallwood SA, Lee HJ, Angermueller C, Krueger F, Saadeh H, Peat J, Andrews SR, Stegle O, Reik W and Kelsey G (2014). "Single-cell genome-wide bisulfite sequencing for assessing epigenetic heterogeneity." Nature Methods 11(8): 817-820.

Research profile URL:
Congratulations to CINSW Fellowship Recipients
Please join us in congratulating three HCRA members - Associate Professor Simon Keely, Dr Lei Jin and Dr Matthew Dun who have been awarded prestigious Cancer Institute NSW fellowships and are among a group of leading scientists who will benefit from $11.6 million in funding announced by Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard recently.

Associate Professor Simon Keely has received a $587,000 Career Development Fellowship for his research: Investigating the role of hypoxia in tumour biology and microbiota interactions using a novel orthotopic model of colorectal cancer.

Dr Lei Jin has received a $150,000 Career Development Fellowship for his research: Overcoming resistance of metastatic melanoma to treatment with a focus on targeting a novel survival signalling pathway.

Dr Matthew Dun has received a $150,000 Early Career Fellowship for his research: Targeting activated signalling and oxidative stress pathways in acute myeloid leukaemia.
Dr Nikola Bowden: Appointed to NHMRC Women in Health Science Working Committee
In an exciting step forward toward gender equity, Dr Nikola Bowden has been appointed to the NHMRC Women in Health Science working committee. A former NHMRC Early Career Fellow, Nikola understands the challenges that our researchers face in attaining funding for their research.

A vocal and outspoken advocate of gender parity, Nikola is a member of the Australian Academy of Sciences Early-Mid Career Researcher Forum (EMCR) and was also on the Women in Science Australia Executive Committee where she works with teams across the country to address barriers to gender equity. She is also a member of the UON science and gender equity (SAGE) self-assessment team.... Read More
Laureate Professor Title Awarded to Professor Rodney Scott
Professor Rodney Scott, Deputy Director for HCRA has been awarded the title of Laureate Professor, in recognition of his remarkable research career and outstanding contributions in the field of genetics in medicine. “The title of Laureate Professor recognises exceptional academic achievement, and is among the highest academic honours conferred at the University of Newcastle,” Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen said.
Congratulations Rodney on this great achievement from everyone at HCRA.
All HCRA members are invited to join us for the first HEaPS Seminar of 2017

Date: Wednesday, 29th March 2017
Time: 2pm to 5pm

Venue: Caves Lecture Theatre, HMRI
Session Chair: Dr Matthew Dun

Invited Speaker: Dr Marina Pajic, Group Leader – Personalised Cancer Therapeutics, Senior Research Officer, Garvin Institute of Medical Research

Visit HCRA Event Page for more information about the program.

2017 HEaPS seminar dates for your diary:
  • Date: 18th May 2017 (Implementation Science Dinner Series)
    Time: 6.30pm to 9.30pm
    Venue: Noahs on the Beach
  • Date: 5th July 2017
    Time: 2pm to 5pm
    Venue: Caves Lecture Theatre, HMRI
  • Date: 18th October 2017
    Time: 2pm to 5pm
    Venue: Caves Lecture Theatre, HMRI
  Save the Date: 2017 Hunter Cancer Research Symposium
The HCRA Operations' Team are once again planning the annual research symposium to be held on Friday 24th November 2017. Please save this date in your calendars. Further details regarding this event to follow. Watch this space.
  Four Tips for Starting a Cancer Research Career

What can young researchers do to help themselves succeed in a cancer research career? Dr Matt Dun has four tips.

Based in Newcastle with the Hunter Medical Research Institute and the University of Newcastle, Dr Matt Dun and his team are currently studying common gene mutations in people with leukaemia. By developing a better understanding of how these mutations influence the way cells grow and survive, Dr Dun and his group are aiming to reposition therapies to target the disease.

He has seen his work take him across the world, but like all successful researchers he started as a young student learning from the people around him. It can seem like a daunting task, making a start in an important and complex field like cancer research, but Dr Dun has four tips for young researchers.. READ MORE

NRL Beanies for Brain Cancer Round
In an exciting and emotional initiative for 2017, Nine, in combination with the National Rugby League (NRL) and the Mark Hughes Foundation, officially announced on Tuesday 21st February 2017 that Round 11 will exclusively be branded 'Beanies for Brain Cancer Round', with all funds raised going directly towards brain cancer research.
Member Publications - March



Whole-genome landscape of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours

Aldo Scarpa, David K. Chang, Katia Nones, Christopher J. Scarlett et al

Read the full article (PDF 623KB)

Supportive Care in Cancer

Treatment of pancreatic insufficiency using pancreatic extract in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer: a pilot study (PICNIC)

Nicholas Zdenkowski, George Radvan, Leanna Pugliese, Julie Charlton, Christopher Oldmeadow, Allison Fraser, Antonino Bonaventura

Read the full article (PDF 623KB)

Cancer Cell

Nerve Dependence: From Regeneration to Cancer

Benoni Boilly, Sam Faulkner, Phillip Jobling, and Hubert Hondermarck

Read the full article (PDF 1MB)

New England Journal of Medicine

Short-Course Radiation plus Temozolomide in Elderly Patients with Glioblastoma

James R. Perry, Normand Laperriere, Christopher J. O’Callaghan, Alba A. Brandes, Johan Menten, Claire Phillips, Michael Fay. et al

Read the full article
Do you have a publication that would be of interest to other cancer researchers? Send it to to be highlighted on our website.
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